Accessibility links

Breaking News

Analyst: Tunisia Constitutional Committee Head’s Outage ‘Ironic’

FILE - Tunisian then-presidential candidate Kais Saied speaks during an interview with Reuters in Tunis, Tunisia September 17, 2019.

The head of the panel that oversaw the drafting of Tunisia’s new proposed constitution, Sadok Belaid, has withdrawn his support for it after President Kais Saied changed the draft to expand presidential powers. An analyst says the constitutional committee was "illegitimate" to begin with.

Mongi Daoudi, a Tunisian-American political analyst, spoke with VOA senior analyst Mohamed Elshinnawi about the two constitutional drafts and how Tunisians are reacting to President Kais Saied's proposal.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

VOA: The leader of the constitutional committee appointed by President Kais Saied recently spoke out against the president's constitutional draft. What caused this disagreement?

Daoudi: Mr. Sadok Belaid was handpicked by President Kais Saied and given about three weeks to submit a draft of a new constitution so that this president could submit for a referendum. July 25th marks the one year anniversary of his power grab or as others might call it, a presidential coup. So we thought and obviously Belaid and his group thought that this is the draft that they are going to submit to the president.

But instead, Kais Saied submitted his own draft, something that Belaid described, these two drafts, as two parallel lines that would never intersect. He even went further and said that the draft that Kais Saied has published is extremely dangerous.

It gives this president unchecked powers. It doesn't specify even if this president is going to resign if this draft is not going to be ratified, if he is going to initiate a new term for his election. Is he going to stay just two terms or two more terms beside the one he's serving now? That means giving him about 15 years of unchecked powers and rule.

There's outcry about not just Belaid but also others who were involved in drafting this constitution.

The irony of this whole thing for me at least as an observer, as a Tunisian is that Belaid and his colleagues have no legal basis to stand on, have not even moral standing to argue against this president and what he did to them because they were brought in through an illegitimate, unconstitutional process itself.

So for them to cry foul now and say that the president did not listen to them and did not present their own draft is kind of laughable and ironic.

VOA: Tunisians fear that if adopted, the Constitution would give the president unrestricted, unchecked powers and would drastically limit the competences of other branches of the state, including the parliament and the judiciary. How would that fear impact their voting on the Constitution?

Daoudi: Looking and observing the reactions of Tunisians, the media, the pundits, the elites, political parties, NGOs, very, very few voices are defending this new draft of the constitutional that Kais Saied has presented, and therefore, looking at this, I would probably say that Tunisians right now are in three different camps.

There is a group that will definitely go out there and vote for Kais Saied’s constitution no matter what. This is a solid group that supported him from the beginning. So we'll say about 5 % will support him. I think there's another group, maybe another 5 %, 10 % who will participate in this draft, but they will vote no against this constitution.

And then the overwhelming majority of Tunisians are not going to take part, unfortunately. They reject the whole process. They think that this is unconstitutional, that the July 25th power grab by the president is in fact a coup, and therefore any process or any decisions that come through that, including this referendum that the president is suggesting, is illegitimate, and therefore they are not going to participate.