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Tunisian President Kais Saied presented a draft this week of a new constitution that would greatly expand his presidential powers, with critics and civil groups warning that it would slide the country back into authoritarianism, the Financial Times reported Tuesday.
The draft document will give the president the ultimate authority over the government and judiciary: It would empower him to dissolve parliament and stay in office for more than two five-year terms if a situation presents an imminent danger to the state. It also says the president “cannot be questioned” about his actions.
The proposed constitution will be put to a referendum on July 25. On Tuesday, Saied urged voters to support the constitution in the vote, adding that it would not restore authoritarian rule, according to Reuters.
Supporters of the president say he is standing up to elite forces whose incompetence and corruption have consigned Tunisia to a decade of political gridlock and economic stagnation.
But some members of the panel that drafted the constitution, including its head Sadok Belaid, have condemned the charter, saying it could pave the way for “a disgraceful dictatorial regime.”
Opposition parties, meanwhile, have been urging voters to boycott the upcoming referendum.
The draft document comes a year after Saied dissolved parliament and began ruling by decree, a move his opponents have described as a coup. The former law professor, who was elected in 2019, went on to dissolve a council guaranteeing judicial independence and placed his appointees on the electoral commission.
Although he received popular support for his power grab, analysts noted that he has “lost some popularity” amid an economic crisis, high youth unemployment and rising inflation.
Still, observers cautioned that there is little doubt the constitution will be adopted even if they expect a low turnout.