New Constitution turns Tunisia into a presidential republic

Draft will be voted in referendum on July 25 without quorum

01 July, 14:15

    TUNIS - Tunisia's new Constitution is going in the direction of a presidential system, giving widespread powers to the head of State and marking a radical change from the parliamentary system currently in place. Just published in the official gazette, the new Charter, which includes a preamble and 142 articles divided into 10 chapters, will be voted in a referendum scheduled on July 25, exactly one year after the approval of exceptional measures by President Kais Saied.

    The text confirms the structure of the presidential system, providing for the "president of the Republic to exercise the executive power, assisted by a government led by a head of the cabinet" appointed by the head of State. This government will not be presented to Parliament for a vote of confidence. The president, according to the text, will moreover enjoy widespread powers: supreme commander of the armed forces, the head of State also defines the general policies of the State and ratifies laws. The president can also present legislative texts to Parliament, "which must examine them 'as a priority'".

    The text, along with significantly reducing the role and power of Parliament, also provides for the creation of a second chamber, "the national, regional and territorial council", introducing the concept of direct representativeness, which is dear to Saied. Members of Parliament also can't change parliamentary groups. Art. 1 which refers to Islam as the "State religion" disappears but art. 5 states that "Tunisia is part of the Islamic Umma-nation and the State alone must work to reach the objectives of Islam to preserve life, honor, money, religion and freedom". The president of the Republic moreover will have to be a Muslim, can't have dual citizenship and cannot be voted more than twice. The new text guarantees "individual and public rights and freedoms" and states that men and women are "equal in rights and duties", also sanctioning that "peaceful gatherings and demonstrations are guaranteed". The right to strike of magistrates disappears, and judicial power is described as a "function". The Constitutional Court is created, formed by nine high magistrates. The new Constitution will replace the charter dating back to 2014 that had set up a hybrid system, even if it was a source of conflict between the executive and legislative powers.

    The opposition and human rights organizations accuse Saied of promoting a text that has been tailor-made for him. "This constitutional reform aims to codify authoritarianism that has already existed for a year", said Saïd Benarbia, director of the program of the International Commission of Jurists ICJ for North Africa and the Middle East. For Benarbia, the text sets up a "presidential system without checks and balances with an all-powerful president, a powerless parliament and an inoffensive judiciary".

    The referendum moreover does not provide at the moment for a quorum and does not contemplate the possibility that a majority of voters could vote no to the proposed reform. Art. 139 in fact states that the "Constitution will come into effect after the final results are announced by the electoral commission".

    According to Benarbia, those who drafted it "don't even take into account the possibility that the draft could be rejected by the Tunisian people".

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