Tunisia Update: Saïed’s Hyper-Presidential Draft Constitution Published (POMED)

Originally Posted on Pomed.org

originally posted on posed.org


President Kaïs Saïed’s draft constitution was published late on June 30, and, as expected, it would centralize power in the president’s hands and eviscerate the separation of powers. Here are a few key elements of the proposed constitution, with reaction from Tunisia's political and civil forces to follow below:
  • The document, which will be put to a referendum on July 25, would permanently enshrine many of the presidential powers that Saïed has seized in violation of the constitution over the past year while incorporating new elements of his long-standing political vision.
  • Under Saïed’s constitution, the president would have almost complete control over the judiciary and military, with no parliamentary oversight over the armed forces or security forces. The cabinet would answer to the president rather than to parliament, and the president would be solely responsible for appointing and dismissing ministers. 
  • The president would also have the ability to dissolve parliament, which would now include a second chamber for “regions and districts”—seemingly an ode to Saïed’s eccentric plan for an “inverted pyramid” of locally driven government. Instead of passing laws itself, parliament would only suggest legislation for the president’s government to consider. Parliament would be prohibited from considering financial issues, with the president gaining sole authority over the state budget.
  • The president would be allowed to serve two terms of five years each but could extend them in the case of an “imminent danger to the state,” similar to the clause that Saïed used to seize power last July 25. Instead of constraining that article, Saïed’s draft expands it: Unlike in the 2014 constitution, the president would have full power in such a state of exception, with no power of review for parliament or the constitutional court. There is no mechanism for removing the president.
  • Although much of the 2014 constitution’s language about rights and liberties has remained, there are few safeguards in place—such as an independent judiciary or a separation of power—to guarantee them.
  • One large change surrounds the status of Islam; it no longer appears in the first article, but Saïed’s constitution later says the state must work to “achieve the goals of pure Islam in preserving [people’s] life, honor, money, religion, and freedom.” It adds that education is based on Islamic identity and that the president must be a Muslim.
  • Several crucial elements, such as how parliament will be elected or the status of Tunisia’s independent institutions, are absent from the constitution and will instead be clarified through subsequent laws. Yet the constitution says that Saïed will continue to rule by decree until the creation of a new parliament following December’s elections—and even after that, he will be able to present draft laws that take precedence over laws proposed by parliament—meaning that Saïed will have the opportunity to further shape the government in his own image in the coming months.
  • Finally, the document says that the constitution “shall enter into force as of the date of the final announcement of the referendum result by the Independent High Authority for Elections,” with no mention of it needing to receive a majority of votes (or any votes at all) in the referendum.
Several independent legal experts and analysts pointed to the dangers in the draft constitution.
  • University of Sousse public law professor Abdelrazek Mokhtar, for instance, described it as “Kaïs Saïed’s constitution,” which “reflects his vision and his point of view regarding the political system” and “serves to maintain his powers.” 
  • The International Commission of Jurists’ Saïd Benarbia agreed, writing that the draft constitution “provides for an unbridled presidential system, with an omnipotent president, a powerless parliament, and a toothless judiciary.”
  • Saïed published a letter on July 5 urging citizens to vote yes in the referendum “in order to avoid the disintegration of the state and to achieve the objectives of the revolution.” As usual, he accused his opponents of corruption, and he claimed that he was simply responding to the popular will. Under his constitution, “there will be no misery, terrorism, famine, injustice, or pain,” Saïed wrote.
Sadok Belaïd, who led the commission charged with creating a first draft of the constitution, said that Saïed's document is “completely different” from the one handed over by the commission and warned that it could lead to “a disgraceful dictatorial regime.” 
  • The commission’s drafting was already deeply flawed as an inclusive democratic process, as explained in a recent POMED Snapshot from Aymen Bessalah, but Belaïd’s comments show that the version that will go to a referendum on July 25 is Saïed’s brainchild alone. Belaïd also published the commission’s draft to highlight the differences from Saïed’s version.
  • Tunisian Bar Association (ONAT) President Brahim Bouderbala, the chair of the commission’s main committee, confirmed that Saïed made significant changes, though he was more deferential to the president’s vision.
  • Among other changes, Saïed’s version added the second parliamentary chamber, stripped MPs of immunity in some situations, and removed a description of how MPs would be elected, as well as eliminating the requirement that the constitution receive a majority of votes in the referendum in order to be adopted.

New POMED Snapshot – Kaïs Saïed’s National Monologue on a New Tunisian Constitution
By Aymen Bessalah

Tunisian President Kaïs Saïed's draft constitution will be put to a referendum on July 25. In a new POMED Snapshot, analyst Aymen Bessalah describes how the process leading up to it was deeply flawed, crafted to give Saïed's political project a veneer of legitimacy. Read the Snapshot here.
The powerful Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT), which had said it would wait to see Saïed’s draft before deciding whether or not to support it, voiced concern over the document but decided it would not tell its more than one million members which way to vote.
  • The UGTT boycotted Belaïd’s commission, arguing that it was only meant to approve Saïed’s predetermined goals. After seeing Saïed’s version, the union criticized the broad powers it would grant the president and other provisions that “could jeopardize democracy.” Yet, it added, “most of the provisions relating to public and individual rights and freedoms are preserved.”
  • Another leading civil society organization, the National Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT), took a stronger stance, rejecting the constitution due to its threats to fundamental rights, including freedom of the press and expression. The SNJT noted that despite theoretical protections of rights, the president's near-unlimited power and the lack of checks and balances mean they would be at grave risk in reality.
  • Other reactions from important political and civic actors were more or less as expected. Small parties that have stood steadfastly behind Saïed since July 25, including Echaab (People’s Current), Alliance for Tunisia, and Tunisia Forward unsurprisingly said they would urge their supporters to vote “yes” in the referendum, though the latter expressed some reservations.
  • The National Salvation Front, which includes Ennahda and Al Karama, reiterated its intention to boycott the vote, as did former President Moncef Marzouki’s al-Irada (Will) Movement.
  • A collection of five parties, including Attayar (Democratic Current) and Ettakatol (Democratic Forum for Labor and Freedoms), that have launched a collective boycott campaign said they would file a complaint against Prime Minister Najla Bouden’s government and the Independent High Authority for Elections (ISIE). “The government and the ISIE are no longer neutral and have become mere collaborators in the service of the personal agenda of President Kaïs Saïed, by using public money to propagandize the new constitution project,” stated Attayar Secretary-General Ghazi Chaouachi.
Finally, Tunisia’s judges suspended their strike on July 3 after nearly a month.
  • They threatened to resume the strike if their demands, including the reinstatement of their 57 colleagues who were unceremoniously fired by Saïed, are not met. They called on the provisional Supreme Judicial Council, over which Saïed seized control in February, to take up the dismissed judges’ cases. Three of those 57 have been on hunger strike
  • The decision to suspend the strike came after an appeal from the UGTT. 
  • Saïed's new constitution would forbid judges from going on strike.


  • July 2 - The Interior Ministry said it had dismantled a "Takfiri cell" in Sfax, foiling a planned bank heist and arresting three people. (TAP)
  • July 4 - President Kaïs Saïed met with his Algerian counterpart, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, to discuss further developing their “exemplary relations.” (Facebook)
  • July 4 - A delegation from the International Monetary Fund began a two-week visit to Tunisia to launch official negotiations over a new loan. (Reuters)