Doubts grow about the constitutional referendum in Tunisia that strengthens President Said | International

Members of the electoral board announce the result of the constitutional referendum, Tuesday in Tunisia.
Members of the electoral board announce the result of the constitutional referendum, Tuesday in Tunisia.Hassene Dridi (AP)

Tunisian President Kais Said has gotten away with it. He already has a Constitution tailored to him, with an omnipotent Executive and a political system without real separation of powers. However, in recent hours, the poor performance of the ISIE (Independent Higher Body for Elections, that is, the electoral board) has cast doubt on the credibility of the constitutional referendum held last Monday. Without going into the reliability of the process, the United States expressed its concern on Wednesday about the unilateral path traced by the president, which threatens the only successful democratic transition that emerged from the Arab Spring. Said decreed a kind of state of emergency in the country a year ago.

As reported by the Tunisian NGO Atide, specialized in electoral processes, several irregularities were recorded during the consultation, such as attempts to influence voters during the day of reflection or in the polling stations themselves. But the harshest criticism from civil society points to the changing results presented by the ISIE. Between midnight Monday and Tuesday, the official participation rate jumped from 27.5% to 30.5%. In other words, almost 400,000 new voters appeared at once. According to the official results, the Yes It was imposed with 94.6% of the votes.

Just as problematic is that the sum of the voters for each option and the total votes did not add up in most regions. After the complaint on the networks by activists and analysts, the ISIE withdrew this Wednesday morning from its website information that reappeared a few hours later corrected. In a public statement, the electoral board justified its actions by an error “by mixing data that had been updated with other previous ones.”

Faced with criticism and suspicions about the process, two Tunisian NGOs, the Chahed Observatory and I Watch, have requested a new recount of the referendum votes without the participation of ISIE. For its part, the National Campaign Against the Referendum, which brings together several progressive parties, has accused Said of “manipulating the results.” “There can always be some discrepancy in the numbers, but given its magnitude, it is hard to believe that the error is honest,” says Monica Marks, an American professor specializing in Tunisia at New York University (Abu Dhabi headquarters). .

Misgivings among dissidents

From its inception, the holding of the referendum raised the misgivings of the opposition. For the first time since the fall of the dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, the appointment with the polls did not have delegations of observers from the EU and the Carter Foundation by express decision of Said. In addition, the ISIE added new rules to favor the result desired by the Executive, such as the extension by five hours of the usual opening hours of the voting centers, which became from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Even in the middle of the campaign, the president introduced several changes in the draft of the constitutional text. For example, he modified article 5, referring to the role of Islam, which had received numerous criticisms from the most secular sectors.

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The creation of the ISIE was considered one of the greatest achievements of the Tunisian democratic transition. Between 2011 and 2019, the agency transparently organized six electoral processes. Its results were accepted by all political parties, both winners and losers.

However, Said decided to dismiss ISIE’s leadership in April and renew several of its members. “ISIE is no longer independent. How can it be credible in organizing democratic elections if its current president [del ISIE] carried out a coup against the previous one?” says Sayida Ounissi, a former deputy from the opposition Ennahda party, with an Islamist tendency. ISIE’s performance in the referendum casts serious doubt on the cleanliness of the legislative elections on December 17, the last stage of Said’s roadmap to transform the country’s political system.

“The new Constitution includes weakened mechanisms and checks and balances, which could compromise the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms,” said a spokesman for the US State Department on Wednesday, who has also criticized the drafting process of the Constitution. new Basic Law for not being “inclusive and transparent”. “Western countries are trying to maintain humanitarian aid to Tunisia, but without this support implying helping to consolidate the Said regime,” added the State Department spokesman.

The EU has been more circumspect in its assessment of the constitutional process, drawing harsh criticism on social media from opponents of the president. Through a statement, the diplomatic delegation of the Twenty-seven in Tunisia has limited itself to “taking note of the results” and giving general advice on the need for “broad consensus among the different political forces” in political transitions. “The EU is more concerned than the US about a collapse of the Tunisian economy because this would lead to a wave of migrants to European shores. And that explains his position”, says analyst Mohamed Dhia Hammami, from Syracuse University (New York).

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