Why Tunisians Are Ignoring The President’s Call To Change The Constitution

In January, Tunisian President Kais Saied released an online questionnaire asking citizens to join in the process of rewriting the constitution. With just a few days to go until the portal closes on Sunday evening, only 412,000 people – less than six percent of the seven-million-strong electorate – have taken part in the consultation as it is called.

The Tunisian people have shown a lack of interest in the political process majorly because of the president’s lack of respect for democracy, a likely biased system, as well as the worsening economic situation in the country.

President Saied has been accused by his critics of ruthlessly seizing power and freezing the country’s parliament to own near-total political power in Tunisia. His move abruptly suspended the mixed presidential-parliamentary system enshrined in Tunisia’s 2014 constitution, a hard-won compromise between rival ideological camps reached three years after a revolt toppled autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Now citizens and critics alike are worried the change in the constitution would be rigged in his favour as the committee of experts to draft the new laws have been handpicked by President Saied.

Apart from the people’s disillusion with their government, the small North African country has suffered food shortages, unemployment and increasing public debt for a while now. New reports reveal living conditions in the country have become even worse following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the government’s laxity in strategies to put an end to the grinding economic crisis.

Years of high unemployment and inflation have left many families struggling to get by – and with little interest in the politics of the country. With a population of over 12 million people, the unemployment rate in Tunisia has been in an inconsistent state in the past 3 years, according to data from the National Institute of Statistics Tunisia.

In January 2019, the unemployment rate was at 15.5% and by January 2020, the rates dropped to 14.9% then climbed to 18% in July of the same year. Currently, the unemployment rate in the country is at 18.4%.

The annual inflation rate in Tunisia accelerated for the fourth straight month to 6.7% in January of 2022, from 6.6% in the prior month. This is the highest reading since September of 2019 at 6.72%, a 0.59% decline from 2018.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine also threatens to worsen food shortages and inflation in the already struggling country. Nearly half of Tunisia’s wheat imports come from Ukraine, and the Russian invasion has sent prices to a 14-year high. Asides from the price of bread, other commodities as well as energy prices keep soaring as the war persists.

Tunisia’s reliance on the European Union for trade and investment also leaves it vulnerable to the war’s impact. Authorities have been working to finalize a set of proposed reforms to help secure a new loan from the International Monetary Fund, a deal seen as key to shoring up the country’s economy.

Patsy Nwogu

Reporting on data-driven featured stories and investigations.

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