A referendum on a new constitution is not the medicine Tunisia needs – Middle East Monitor

One of the most prominent officials close to the Tunisian president describes the latter’s approach to the current situation in his country: “It’s like giving an aspirin to a person with cancer.

The former dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Tunis, Sadok Belaid, has been appointed by President Kais Saied to head the committee tasked with drafting a new constitution. He explained this problem in an interview with The world: “He [Saied] is completely disconnected from this matter; he knows nothing of the country’s current problems, of the disease that the country is suffering at the moment, be it economic, social, cultural or environmental. We cannot say that we are going to improve the political organization of the country so that things go better there.”

What Belaid said is true, but that does not absolve him of his own responsibility. He was part of the team that wanted to provide this aspirin to the patient, actively trying to mislead him knowing full well that neither the diagnosis nor the treatment was correct. This was before being shocked that the text of the draft constitution that was released had nothing to do with what he had prepared with the other members of the committee, who were fewer than the fingers of one hand .

All talk in Tunisia now revolves around the new constitution which is the subject of the July 25 referendum, while the document in question is certainly equivalent to an aspirin for a patient cruelly stricken with cancer. Tunisia is in a catastrophic state at almost every level and nothing in this bitter situation will change by holding a referendum and promulgating a new constitution. This will only make the situation worse and worse, because it means that “Dr” Saied always insists on the wrong diagnosis and the wrong prescription.

READ: Why would Arabs want democracy if it means unemployment, poverty, insecurity and corruption?

It comes as Tunisia is warned it could fall into a default cycle on its $35 billion debt for the first time in its history, and its wheat stocks were about to run out at late last month until the World Bank rushed to provide him with $130 million in aid to help pay for wheat shipments. It is also a period when the country resorts to the use of its strategic oil stock for the internal market with the risk that this poses to the national electricity grid and the need to secure basic infrastructures such as hospitals.

Kais Saied, the Tunisian president dissolves parliament “to preserve the state” – Caricature [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Moreover, Tunisia is in the process of communicating or discussing – we do not know exactly which ones – with the International Monetary Fund to obtain a loan of 4 billion dollars under abusive conditions which will devastate the country whose people are already suffering from ‘an unbearable wave of high prices, just as questions are being raised about public finances and the state’s ability to pay salaries each month. There are also doubts about the printing of new banknotes which will fuel inflation even more, and others about resorting to Treasury bonds to deal with the situation.

The country also faces serious tensions between Saied and his political opponents, with a corresponding rise in hatred and animosity within society. It is also a time when there is absolutely no sign of political or societal dialogue, when the total contempt of the authorities for the reluctance of political parties, associations and personalities prevails over any progress made by the government. The Tunisian General Labor Union has expressed concern over the “economic reforms” that the government is currently imposing unilaterally, as well as the judges’ anger and their long strike. Some go on a hunger strike.

At a time when all this and much more is taking place, what value does any referendum have, especially when it takes place in a context whose legitimacy is disputed? What is the point of voting on a constitution that almost everyone agrees grants the president “pharaonic powers” or “supreme leader powers” rendering him totally unsupervised and irresponsible? What will change in Tunisia when the referendum result is announced? In a word, nothing at all; there will simply be more complexity and decomposition.

We can expect an intensification of political polarization and a deterioration of public finances and the economy. There will also be a further decline in the level of public services in terms of administration, transport, international airports, hospitals, availability of medicines and cleanliness of the streets. Meanwhile, Kais Saied will continue to rule unilaterally by presidential decree until legislative elections are held in December, if they do take place. We do not know under which electoral law it will take place and who will participate, since almost all parties reject the president’s approach completely, except for a few who represent very little. Saied’s decrees and other “emergency measures” have not solved any of the country’s problems a year after they were imposed, and he is unlikely to solve any before December.

Each citizen is free to participate in the referendum, but it is very useful to understand now that the aspirin that he will help to administer to the patient will not only not cure him, but will also hasten his death. A referendum on a new constitution is not the remedy Tunisia needs.

Tunisia: Saied ready for more power but economy collapses

This article was first published in Arabic in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on July 12, 2022

The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

About Wesley V. Finley

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