Tunisia's President Kais Saied to form committee to write constitution

New laws will be put to a referendum on July 25, he says

Tunisia's President Kais Saied. Reuters
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President Kais Saied says he will form a committee to write a constitution for a “new Republic” in Tunisia, which he intends to put to a referendum vote in July.

Mr Saied has often stated his aim to rewrite the 2014 constitution, which was drafted by an elected constituent assembly in the years after the removal of president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

His vow that this will now happen was made in a televised speech on Sunday, just days after he reorganised the country's independent electoral commission.

In a tweet published on the presidential account, which Mr Saied uses to communicate with the public, his office said he had consulted lawyers Sadok Belaid and Mohamed Salah Ben Aissa earlier on Sunday to “discuss the legal situation and the constitution that will be drafted and approved by referendum on July 25 “, the one-year mark of his seizure of sole control of the country.

In his address, Mr Saied said a national dialogue on reforms would include four major organisations in Tunisia, referring to the powerful UGTT labour union, the lawyers' union, the industry and trade federation and the Tunisian Human Rights League.

In a May Day speech, UGTT Secretary General Noureddine Taboubi restated his organisation's rejection of Mr Saied's accumulated power and warned that the president “must keep his promise and launch a national dialogue before it is too late “.

Calls have been made by civil society organisations and foreign partners for transparency and inclusion in the process of drafting a new constitution. But even those who supported the president's unilateral actions to shut parliament and take sole control of the country have been left out.

In January, Mr Saied launched an online consultation, which he said would inform the drafting of a new constitution. Less than five per cent of Tunisians participated.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinkin, speaking at a hearing before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on April 28, said the low turnout of the consultation “does not augur well” for an inclusive reform process.

The US has cut back its aid to Tunisia as a reflection of concerns about its democratic trajectory, he said.

Amine Ghali, the director of Al Kawakibi Democracy Transition Centre, said the consultation raised more questions than it answered.

“Because there is no transparency in his process, we have no idea how Saied will be using the results of this poll,” he said. “He may put this all aside and draft a constitution from scratch.”

Concerns about the integrity of the July 25 referendum, and legislative elections slated for mid-December, increased when last month Mr Saied reorganised the country's Independent High Authority for Elections, appointing many of its members himself.

The body, which would oversee the referendum and elections, was one of the last remaining independent institutions in the country.

The authority's president Nabil Baffoun decried the move, saying the body was no longer independent.

“It has become the president's commission,” he said.

Updated: June 14, 2023, 6:46 AM