Turnout low in vote on increasing president’s powers

Analysts are watching to see how big the turnout will be

Tunisian voters turned out in low numbers on Monday for a controversial referendum on a new constitution.

Around 27.5% of eligible voters ended up casting a ballot, the country’s electoral commission reported after polls closed.

President Kais Saied had argued that a ‘yes’ vote in Monday’s referendum was necessary to advance political reforms.

But his opponents say it would just entrench the powers he seized a year ago and strengthen his personal rule.

Tunisia became the birthplace of the Arab Spring when it overthrew its long-serving ruler Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.

The date of the referendum was chosen by President Saied to mark a year to the day since his dramatic move to suspend parliament and dismiss the government.

Since then, he has effectively ruled by decree.

According to one exit poll published on Monday evening, the measure received the support of over 90% of those who turned out to vote.

The new constitution, which replaces one drafted in 2014 three years after the Arab Spring, would give the head of state full executive control, supreme command of the army and the ability to appoint a government without parliamentary approval.

Mr Saied says it is necessary to break a cycle of political paralysis and economic decay.

He says his reforms are being done in the spirit of the 2011 revolution and will ensure a better future.

“Our money and our wealth are enormous, and our will is even greater, to rebuild a new Tunisia and a new republic, one that breaks with the past,” the president said after voting on Monday morning.

His many critics say it could lead Tunisia back to dictatorship in all but name.

The major parties – including the Islamist Ennahda – were boycotting the vote.

Although President Saied still has a core of support among Tunisians who believe the country needs a strong leader to address its problems, there seems little enthusiasm for the referendum.

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