The Biden Administration Must Stand with the Majority that Rejected Kais Saied’s Referendum

(Washington, D.C., 7/26/22) The Tunisian United Network calls on the Biden Administration and the U.S. Congress to side with the Tunisian people and declare that the July 25th referendum lacked a clear mandate for President Kais Saied’s proposed constitution. The constitutional referendum, already being celebrated as a landslide victory by Saied and his supporters, will codify Saied’s July 25, 2021 authoritarian power grab and enshrine a hyper-presidential government system with “an unaccountable, unimpeachable President, a powerless Parliament and a subordinated judiciary.”

The legitimacy of the referendum has been called into question given that: (1) the new constitution was prepared through a process that excluded the participation of Tunisia’s main political and civil society groups; (2) the credibility and transparency of the election process has been undermined considering “no” vote campaigns were blocked and anti-referendum rallies canceled, journalists and observers were prevented from covering or observing the voting process, Saied breached the rule of electoral silence by campaigning on voting day, and a heavy security force presence seemingly intimidated citizens; (3) the independence of the elections authority, the Independent High Authority for Elections (ISIE), cannot be guaranteed after Saied changed the ISIE’s composition and replaced its members with those appointed by himself; and (4) 75% of registered voters boycotted the vote.

International observers have criticized the obscure, exclusionary, and fast-tracked constitutional drafting process drawn up outside of any legal framework with minimal outside input. Recently, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, cast doubt on the credibility of the constitutional drafting process, emphasizing its lack of transparency and inclusivity.
Those originally tasked with drafting the new constitution disavowed the published version, warning it would “pave the way for a disgraceful dictatorship”, leading analysts to believe Saied self-authored the new text.

By end of Monday, an exit poll by Tunisia’s leading polling company showed 25% of voters had taken part in the referendum. Irrespective of the low voter turnout, the new constitution will enter into effect as the elections authority failed to set a mandated minimum level of participation.

However, as evinced by Tunisian United Network President Mongi Dhaouadi:

“It is clear, based on the minimal participation, that an overwhelming majority of Tunisian voters refuse to legitimize the constitutional referendum, have rejected this process, and do not seek to ratify the proposed constitution.”

We call on the Biden Administration and the U.S. Congress to stand with the Tunisian people who rejected this unconstitutional process and to demand a true inclusive dialogue to move the country forward. The United States’ government must adhere to the guidelines set forth in the Fiscal Year 2022 budget and leverage U.S. assistance to Tunisia based on the extent to which President Saied’s government is taking credible steps to restore constitutional order and democratic governance, maintaining the independence of the judiciary, holding security forces who commit human rights abuses accountable, refraining from prosecuting civilians in military courts, and if the Tunisian military is remaining an apolitical and professional institution.

Contact: TUN President Mongi Dhaouadi | [email protected] | (860) 514-8038