By Sebastian Usher and Leo Sands-BBC News
https://www.bbc.com/-Image source, AFP
Analysts are watching to see how big the turnout will be
Tunisian voters turned out in low numbers on Monday for a controversial referendum on a new constitution.
Ballots were cast by 27.5% of eligible voters, according to the country’s electoral commission.
The ‘yes’ vote for a new constitution – which President Kais Saied argued was necessary to advance political reforms – is expected to pass overwhelmingly.
But his opponents say it would just entrench the powers he seized a year ago and strengthen his personal rule.
According to one exit poll published on Monday evening, the president’s measure received the support of over 90% of those who turned out to vote.
Mr Saied’s opponents – many of whom boycotted the vote – will cite the low turnout as denying legitimacy to what they see as a worrying move back towards autocracy.
Tunisia became the birthplace of the Arab Spring when it overthrew its long-serving ruler Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.
The date of the referendum was chosen by President Saied to mark a year to the day since his dramatic move to suspend parliament and dismiss the government.
Since then, he has effectively ruled by decree.
The new constitution, which replaces one drafted in 2014 three years after the Arab Spring, would give the head of state full executive control, supreme command of the army and the ability to appoint a government without parliamentary approval.
Mr Saied says it is needed to break a cycle of political paralysis and economic decay.
He says his reforms are being done in the spirit of the 2011 revolution and will ensure a better future.
“Our money and our wealth are enormous, and our will is even greater, to rebuild a new Tunisia and a new republic, one that breaks with the past,” the president said after voting on Monday morning.
His many critics say it could lead Tunisia back to dictatorship in all but name.
The major parties – including the Islamist Ennahda – were boycotting the vote.
Although President Saied still has a core of support among Tunisians who believe the country needs a strong leader to address its problems, there seems little enthusiasm for the referendum.