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Tunisians Approve Sweeping Presidential Powers in Divisive Vote

·1 min read

(Bloomberg) -- Tunisian voters approved constitutional changes granting President Kais Saied sweeping authority, even as a lukewarm turnout showed deep divisions over a move opponents describe as a death knell for the country’s hard-won democracy.

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The amendments passed with the support of 94.6% of participants in Monday’s plebiscite, according to the Tunisian election commission. Turnout was 30.5%.

The vote was “well-organized” despite attempts to spread “confusion”, the head of the election committee Farouk Bouasker said in remarks carried by state TV.

The divisive ballot was held a year to the day after Saied dissolved parliament and dismissed the prime minister. Those steps were initially welcomed by many Tunisians fed up with feuding politicians and economic malaise in the decade that followed the 2011 Arab Spring uprising. But enthusiasm has waned as authorities failed to deliver a better life, and the president’s opponents had called for a boycott of the referendum.

The proposals drafted by a panel that Saied had handpicked boost presidential executive powers and severely dilute those of a re-jigged legislative branch and the judiciary. The president can now nominate a prime minister.

Investors in Tunisia’s debt will remain on edge after the vote exposed Saied’s lack of support. He must win over powerful critics, including the country’s biggest union, if he’s to rescue the heavily-indebted economy with an International Monetary Fund bailout.

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