Tunisian president defends draft constitution amid growing opposition

A draft of President Saied’s constitution was released on Thursday; critics say it paves the way to authoritarian rule.

Tunisian President Kais Saied
Tunisian President Kais Saied dissolved the elected parliament to rule by decree in a step his foes call a coup [File: Muhammad Hamed/Reuters]

Tunisia’s president has said his proposed constitution would not restore authoritarian rule, hitting back at criticism from across the political spectrum and urging people to support it in this month’s referendum.

Saied, who suspended and subsequently dissolved the elected parliament to rule by decree in a step his foes call a coup, made the comments on Tuesday.

A draft of a new constitution that would greatly expand his powers while weakening checks on his actions was published on Thursday.

Previously, political power was more directly exercised by parliament, which took the lead role in appointing the government and approving legislation.

The president’s supporters say he is standing up to elite forces whose bungling and corruption have condemned Tunisia to a decade of political paralysis and economic stagnation.

In a letter published online, Saied said there was no danger to Tunisians’ rights and freedoms.

“Everyone knows what Tunisia has suffered for decades, especially the last decade. They emptied state coffers. The poor got poorer, the corrupt got richer,” Said said, accusing critics of his constitution of “slanders, far from reality”.

Most political parties and civil society groups oppose his constitution, saying it was drawn up unilaterally and will lack legitimacy as Tunisians have less than four weeks to decide on it and there is no minimum rate of participation for it to pass.

Even the head of the committee Saied convened to prepare the first draft of his constitution, which he then rewrote, said this weekend that the president’s version was “dangerous and paves the way for a disgraceful dictatorial regime”.

Sadok Belaid, the committee head, said the version Saied had presented did not resemble the draft the committee had prepared.

Similarly, the head of the powerful UGTT union said the proposed constitution could threaten democracy in the country.

But the union, a major political force with more than one million members, said it would allow its members the freedom to vote as they choose on the constitution proposed by Saied.

Voters will be asked to approve the constitution in a July 25 referendum.

Source: News Agencies