Tunisians snub poll on reforms as economic crisis bites

Tunisian volunteers explain to citizens how to fill out an online public poll, on March 14, 2022 in the capital Tunis.

By Theodore Jones –

Tunisian President Kais Saied, who seized power last year in what critics labelled a coup, has now asked voters for their political views — but days before the online poll closes, fewer than six percent had taken part.

Most people in the small North African country are more concerned with food shortages, unemployment and financial woes than in joining in the process to help rewrite the constitution.

The online questionnaire was launched in January, more than half a year after Saied sacked the government, froze parliament and seized near-total power in a decisive blow against the country’s political elite.

The results are to be presented to a committee of experts — hand-picked by Saied — who will then draft a new constitution ahead of a referendum in July.

But with just days to go until the portal closes on Sunday evening, only 412,000 people — under six percent of the seven-million-strong electorate — had taken part.

“It’s clear that there’s a lack of interest in this consultation,” said analyst Hamza Meddeb. “The timing wasn’t well thought-out.”

Saied’s July power grab abruptly suspended the mixed presidential-parliamentary system enshrined in Tunisia’s 2014 constitution, a hard-won compromise between rival ideological camps reached three years after a revolt toppled dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Tunisia has often been praised abroad as the only democracy to emerge from the Arab Spring uprisings.

But many Tunisians have long become disillusioned with a political class seen as corrupt and incompetent, meaning Saied’s move initially sparked a wave of support.

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