The announcement of extraordinary measures by the President of the Republic, Kaïs Saïed, on July 25, 2021 was a real political earthquake. The latter has since multiplied unilateral and parachute measures aimed at establishing his authority and his dominion. It is in this sense that he had presented a timetable, including the holding of a referendum and parliamentary elections.
Kaïs Saïed had affirmed that the adoption of a new constitution and the transition to the Third Republic were crucial for Tunisians and even decisive. The head of state, true to his habits and without consulting either the political parties or the national organizations or civil society actors, formed a commission known as the National Consultative Commission for a New Republic, which was responsible for drafting the project of the new constitution. which he will eventually throw into oblivion.
The President of the Republic seems determined to adopt his own project and he will not hesitate in this sense to issue a decree that pushes us to participate in one of the most bizarre referendum campaigns in the history of democracy.
Legislative Decree No. 2022-34 of 1 June 2022, amending and supplementing the Electoral Act, established new conditions for participation in the referendum. Thus, those who wished to participate had to submit a request to the Independent High Authority for Elections (Isie). They were prompted to do so even before the publication of the draft of the new constitution, which is the subject of a referendum. After processing the requests, Isie published an initial list with the names of 26 organizations and associations, 24 political parties and 111 individuals. Another list, created on the basis of each individual’s position in relation to the draft of the new constitution, included 148 names (22 political parties, 22 organizations and associations and 101 individuals).
This number seems above all “encouraging”. Nevertheless, as of 12 July 2022, i.e. the tenth day of the referendum campaign, we have not seen the slightest movement on the part of the participants. We were only entitled to the pro-Saïed electronic crusades and their outbursts on social networks. In some cases, they have ended in skirmishes without major consequences and impacts.
The places that have become crucial to the success of an electoral campaign during the previous election have not been invaded by tents, mobile teams, derivative products and other odds and ends that serve to attract the most citizens and convince them. Some places have even been forgotten and abandoned by campaigners. Both sides seem to have chosen to take shelter in their trenches, each awaiting a major offensive from the other, envisioning a crushing and unprecedented victory. They chose to take cover and wait when they had to lead a referendum campaign and try to motivate the citizens in favor of such and such a position: a strange campaign!
The biggest example to consider: the total absence of posters in the places put by Isie. In 2019, 2018 and 2014, campaign participants rushed to hang their programs, their logos and the portraits of the candidates from the first minutes of the start of this process. They took proud pictures of themselves during the event and went out of their way to bombard Internet users with their selfies and their videos that reflect a real determination and desire to win. The participants in the referendum campaign, for their part, chose a communication strategy more like anonymity! A worrying observation in light of the scale of a referendum and the political and legal implications of the adoption of this constitution. It is not only a question of a transition towards a third republic, but of a strengthening of the head of state’s stranglehold on the state’s institutions.
Also, Kaïs Saïed played his shot well. In the face of the complicit silence of several actors on the political scene, experts and organizations in favor of freedom and democracy, he succeeded in establishing a system that guarantees him absolute control over the progress of the campaign and the exclusion of opponents disguised as electoral standards.
Before then he had to tinker with a body responsible for the election and try to pass this referendum on the chosen date regardless of the cost. Subsequently, Kaïs Saïed, by decree and within the framework of his agreement with Isie, set the condition of signing up for the referendum campaign in order to participate in it. A rushed and haphazard process that lacks transparency and clarity.
The head of state confirmed, on the one hand, that the referendum was addressed to all Tunisians and that it would allow them to express their true views, choosing, on the other hand, to impose restrictions on participation in this event and give some the right to speak during the campaign. Subsequently, we also discovered that the right to speak publicly and in the media about this referendum was not granted to all Tunisians. It was once again necessary to be included in the famous list of rural participants. It is these 148 messengers who therefore have the privilege of informing and instructing the Tunisians about the referendum and the draft of the new constitution.
This campaign, still in its infancy, is sinking deeper and deeper into ridicule. The President of the Republic has even given himself the right to change the text submitted to the referendum in the middle of the campaign. Isie has of course chosen to hide. We have also observed illegal use of banners and billboards in total contravention of the electoral law.
The result seems to be getting closer and closer. Nevertheless, the ending seems to feel more like total war than a happy ending. A total war against pluralism, the civil and legal state, political rights and freedoms, development and people’s right to self-determination. A strange campaign before an incipient dictatorship!