On 25 July, Tunisia held a constitutional referendum, giving the president broad powers, while substantially limiting the role of parliament.

The opposition boycotted the referendum and nearly 70% of Tunisia’s voters remained indoors. While the low turnout casts serious doubts on popular support for this new constitution, President Kais Saied is determined to move on, claiming that “Tunisia has now entered a new phase.”

limited checks and balances

This new phase has become a major threat to democracy. This effectively takes Tunisia back to where it was before the 2011 Arab Spring.

Civil liberties no longer enjoy the safeguards that were firmly incorporated into the 2014 constitution. The independence of the judiciary has weakened.

And in Tunisia, for the foreseeable future, there will be a president with uncontrollable powers that are far more than acceptable in any healthy democracy. The President can appoint and dismiss the head of government as he thinks fit. He can draft laws to be passed by the Parliament with ‘priority’. He can also amend the constitution directly.

The country has reverted to a full presidential system, but with very limited checks and balances.

what went wrong?

Tunisia offers a serious lesson to all democrats around the world. The democratic decline in the country shows that guaranteeing political rights in a democratic system with a strong parliament is not enough, as Tunisia has done since 2014. Neither is introducing checks and balances on institutions, which until then was absent in the country. , The population of Tunisia expects more than these formal rights enshrined in the constitution.

Tunisia’s lesson repeats itself from Afghanistan to El Salvador and from Mali to Burkina Faso: democracy becomes an empty word when it allows every adult to vote, but serves the interests of only a few happy people. When formal aspects of democracy are present, but security, a basic need for all of us, is barely present outside the walls of Rashtrapati Bhavan. When politicians seriously claim that they protect universal values ​​and rights, but forget that they are representatives of the people. of all people. That’s when people start losing faith in the system.

importance of youth

In Tunisia, the democratic decade following the Arab Spring did not bring the prosperity people were hoping for. Even today, youth unemployment in Tunisia is high, around 40%.

The youth may have given birth to the Arab Spring, but now, ten years later, some of them are appreciating President Said’s strong hand. Many others dismiss political leaders who, in their view, have spent their time quarreling in Parliament without achieving results. Others have turned away from politics altogether. Only 1% of the youth voted in this referendum.

But, in the midst of all the gloom, there is hope. In our work in Tunisia, we have had the opportunity to see firsthand the ambition and dedication of many young Tunisians.

Over the past 10 years, NIMD has trained hundreds of young politicians in the country, together with our partners, the Center d’Etudes Mediterranese et International (CEMI) and Demo Finland. It is the enthusiasm of the youth and the values ​​of freedom and democracy that inspired us to start the program in 2011.

As the political crisis struck the country, the focus of the program changed, with the importance of respectful dialogue and discussion on democratic values. It really resonated with the students. They were able to express their concerns, as well as experiencing the value of listening and adopting an inclusive approach. Today, they are important citizens and politicians who have different views, but all stand for democratic values ​​and believe in cooperation across the political spectrum.


Democracy did not die in Tunisia last month. But the democratic parties of the country face a tremendous challenge to gain the trust of the people. They need to start listening and engaging with young people. The voice of the young Tunisian people is important. If they support and defend democratic values, Tunisia has a chance to stay on the democratic path.

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