Saied’s supporters celebrate new constitution, but turnout is low

Some Tunisians have begun celebrating a win for the “Yes” vote in a constitutional referendum brought by President Kais Saied, despite the election authority saying only about a quarter of registered voters had turned out.

An exit poll from Sigma Conseil, a Tunisian polling company, said 92.3 percent of voters had backed the new constitution, which opponents say will entrench one-man rule.

Only 7.7 percent voted “No”.  Out of some nine million registered voters, just 1.9 million people came out to vote, with the opposition mainly choosing to boycott the vote.

A couple of hundred people crowded onto the steps of Tunis Municipal Theatre to sing and chant popular slogans while cars circled Avenue Habib Bourguiba, which saw the final chapter of the 2011 uprising that overthrew the authoritarian president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and began the Arab Spring.

A few hours later, they were joined by Saied himself, who gave speeches and answered questions from local and international press.

Saied addressed his supporters in central Tunis in the early hours of Tuesday morning after a walkabout and appeared sure that his constitution had been approved, referring to the referendum day as “an historic moment”.

Low support

Saied’s supporters are expecting radical change, if not miraculous solutions, to the economic strife that has fuelled demonstrations and strikes in Tunisia.

Sharan Grewal, assistant professor at the University College of William and Mary in Virginia and a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution, told Al Jazeera the opposition could make a political profit from the low voter turnout.

“It depends how they frame this. It shows that 72 percent do not support Saied’s project …” Grewal said, adding “but that assumes that they were actively boycotting, not just not voting.”

Grewal said the way for opposition movements to convince common Tunisians that the majority of them were against the plan “would be to hold a big protest” rather than a series of small ones.

The opposition had struggled to unite before the vote, and had held separate anti-referendum protests.

It is not yet clear how Saied plans to proceed.

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