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President Saïed takes his new constitution campaign online

As protests and economic pressures mount, the government promises to consult people about its far-reaching reforms

Ahead of a referendum on a new constitution in July, new voting laws and parliamentary elections in December, President Kaïs Saïed has launched an online two-month consultation process, after governing by decree since last July (AC Vol 62 No 17, Playing the waiting game). The state of emergency has been extended until next month.

Saïed sees the initiative as a form of direct democracy which he is pushing as alternative to the country's log-jammed parliamentary system. As he hasn't consulted most of the opposition parties and civil society groups, it's unlikely to dampen growing local and international criticism of his rule.

On 14 January, the 11th anniversary of the ousting of President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, opposition activists, including Attaya and the Islamist Ennahda party, took to the streets in Tunis to demonstrate against Saiëd's rule.

Ennahda blamed police brutality for the death of party member Ridha Bouziane at the protest. And former minister of justice and Ennahda member Noureddine Bhiri remains in a critical condition in hospital after being kidnapped by plain-clothes police for three days and denied medication for his medical conditions, said a party official.

With economic hardship deepening, the government wants to adopt some International Monetary Fund reforms as part of efforts to negotiate loans and investments. But these are angering the powerful Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail (UGTT) workers' federation.

The President insists the online constitutional forum will give Tunisians a say in the country's future. They can register on the E–Istichara website using their national identity number, and submit views and proposals on education, culture, politics and elections and the economy.

Saiëd says that consultation will provide a road map towards a new political structure ahead of the referendum (AC Vol 63 No 1, Rough seas for despot and demos). But its terms of reference have been dictated by the government. No political parties or civil society groups have helped draw up the policy agenda. It is also unclear what safeguards there are to ensure that the data is not misused.

Parliamentary parties are divided over the consultation. Afek Tounes and Ennahda have dismissed the initiative out of hand, while the Ba'ath party and leftist Popular Front have welcomed it.

IWatch, the local partner of the international anti-corruption lobby Transparency International's local partner, argues that the questions on the digital platform will 'direct the will of the people in advance and limit their right to self–determination'.

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