by Xinhua writers Xu Supei, Huang Ling
TUNIS, June 19 (Xinhua) -- Tunisian President Kais Saied has declared that a constitutional referendum will be held on July 25, the country's Republic Day, for a "new republic."
However, the referendum, which aims to replace the 2014 constitution, is being boycotted by the main political parties in the North African country.
With about 30 days left before the referendum, voting for or against the new constitution has become the focus of Tunisian political life.
CONSTITUTION FOR NEW REPUBLIC
The plebiscite is Saied's latest attempt to restructure the country's political system, experts said.
"Unlike the previous ones, the 2022 constitution will pay special attention to the economic aspect," Sadok Belaid, head of Tunisia's constitution committee, said in a statement on Saturday.
Belaid added he would hand over the draft constitution to Saied on Monday.
"The new constitution will reflect Tunisians' will. A new republic would be founded on the new constitution," the president told a council of ministers meeting in May.
On July 25, 2021, Saied sacked the prime minister and suspended the parliament in response to a series of mass anti-government protests amid an economic collapse fuelled by the COVID-19 pandemic.
After that, he appointed a new government and dissolved the parliament as well as the supreme judicial council.
Despite fierce criticism from rivals, the Tunisian president insisted that his moves were legal and needed to save Tunisia from a prolonged crisis.
It is worth noting that the July referendum corresponds to what Saied promised during his presidential campaign as a political outsider in 2019, when his supporters doubted if the newly elected leader would be able to deliver on his promises in a country with a strong parliament system.
HARD TO REACH BROAD CONSENSUS
It seems difficult to build an internal consensus on the new constitution, as many political parties have expressed firm rejection of the referendum.
Free Constitutional Party, Tunisia's main opposition party, led a mass protest on Saturday against the referendum, warning it would "cement the president's hold in power."
Ennahda, the largest party in the now-dissolved parliament, held another protest on Sunday against the referendum and the president's latest decrees.
However, many Tunisians and other political parties fed up with boisterous partisan conflicts and deep-rooted corruption welcome Saied's moves.
Last October, three months after the president sacked the prime minister and suspended the parliament, a survey by the Tunis-based Sigma Conseil Foundation showed the confidence in the president had increased by four points to 77 percent.
At the same time, the political barometer indicated that Tunisians' confidence in the future increased for the third consecutive month to 74.3 percent.
"The 2014 constitution fragmented power, enabled corruption gangs and religious groups to form centers of power, which threatens the unity of the state," Mohsen al-Nabati, spokesman for the Popular Current Party, told Xinhua.
If the new constitution would be passed, Tunisia will take a giant step toward stability and establish a healthy democracy so that we can rebuild our country, Nabati said.
TEPID SUPPORT FOR NEW CONSTITUTION
"Do you approve the draft of the new constitution for the republic?" This will be the only question on the referendum, according to the official gazette.
Contrary to the intensive preparations by the government, the response from voters seems tepid.
An online consultation was launched in January to collect Tunisians' suggestions regarding the political reforms. However, only more than 500,000 of the country's 12 million people participated in it.
Some university students told Xinhua that they are in favor of it because "the new constitution will be drafted by a professional team of law professors and experts."
"There is no serious mistake in the 2014 constitution, which certainly needs improvements and this is the matter of most of the constitutions in democratic countries," Sufian al-Makhloufi, a leader in the Democratic Current Party, told Xinhua.
While some don't care about the July vote.
"The referendum may not meet the aspirations of Saied, given the low participation of the Tunisian people, especially the youth," a judge told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.
(Ayten Laamar also contributed to the story)