Tunisia will hold a constitutional referendum next July, President Kais Saied announced on Monday, months after he seized broad powers in moves his opponents called a coup.
In a speech on national television on Monday, he said that Parliament of Tunisia would remain suspended until Tunisians vote for a replacement assembly on December 17, 2022.
The referendum vote would take place on July 25, a year after he suspended Parliament and seized near-total executive authority in the country — often touted as the 2010 Arab Spring’s only success story.
“We want to correct the paths of the revolution and history,” he said, after lambasting critics of his intervention.
Saied in September brushed aside most of the 2014 democratic constitution to say he could rule by decree during a period of exceptional measures, and promised a dialogue on further changes.
Critics denounced Saied’s takeover as a coup but the president has consistently defended the move as the only way to end governmental paralysis after years of political squabbling and economic stagnation, compounded by the coronavirus pandemic.
In September, he named Najla Bouden Romdhane, a little-known university engineer who worked with the World Bank, as the country’s first female prime minister, nearly two months after dismissing Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi.
Restoring the ‘sovereignty of the people’
Saied, who has been a sharp critic of the north African country’s 2014 constitution, said that a nationwide public consultation would take place from January 1 until March 20 to gather suggestions for constitutional and other reforms.
Saied said he would appoint a committee of experts to draft a new constitution, to be ready by June ahead of the referendum.
Earlier on Monday, Saied had told the cabinet that constitutions are “not eternal”. “The people exercises its sovereignty in the framework of the constitution,” Saied said.
“So if it’s not possible for the sovereign people to practise its rights in the framework of a text, then there needs to be a new text.”
The 2014 constitution put in place a hybrid presidential-parliamentary system. But many Tunisians see the political system it created as having failed, creating corruption and endless blockages, without resolving deep social and economic problems.
Saied’s intervention was largely cheered by Tunisians, who have blamed the political class of doing little to create jobs and raise the living standard.
Tunisian Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi accused President Saied of launching “a coup against the revolution and constitution” after the July move, which critics said was a major setback to the democratic gains won in the 2011 revolution.
Ghannouchi heads the Islamist Ennahdha party, which dominated the suspended Parliament.