July 25 (UPI) — Tunisians were voting Monday on a new constitution that would further entrench its controversial leader and allow him to single-handedly enact political reforms that critics say would return the country to a dictatorship.
The referendum to replace the constitution takes place exactly one year after President Kais Saied fired the country’s prime minister and dismissed the government while declaring himself the unilateral head of state.
The new constitution would reportedly give Saied full executive control over the country and its military, plus give him the ability to appoint a government without any approval from parliament.
Saied said he intends to “rebuild a new Tunisia.” He has invoked the Arab Spring pro-democracy revolution, which began in Tunisia in 2011 and saw the overthrow of Tunisia’s long-serving ruler Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
Despite Saied’s calls to eliminate corruption and “return the nation to the revolutionary path,” critics expressed fear that Tunisia could return to an autocracy under his leadership.
Those same misgivings led the major parties in the country — including the Islamist Ennahda — to boycott Monday’s vote.
Saied has previously stated that his primary goal in seizing the government was to target a pattern of economic recession, and that he was encouraged to do so by Tunisians who had grown weary with politics as usual.
“Our money and our wealth are enormous, and our will is even greater, to rebuild a new Tunisia and a new republic, one that breaks with the past,” the president said after voting Monday, according to BBC News.
Still, there appeared to be at least some apathy among the public as voter turnout hovered around only 12% early in the day.
The new constitution, which seems likely to pass, would replace one drafted three years after the start of the Arab Spring.