President Saied’s ‘online consultation’ leaves Tunisians nervous

The North African nation is divided over a digital survey seeking suggestions from citizens on changes to the constitution.

The launch of an online public consultation on proposed constitutional changes in Tunisia has sparked debate in the North African country, with the process leaving gray areas amid political uncertainty even after President Kais Saied announced a roadmap to get out of the crisis.

Coming just over a decade after a citizen of the country sparked the historic Arab Spring protests, President Saied’s decision is seen as groundbreaking by many, but for many Tunisians it could turn out to be just a cosmetic exercise to support the embattled leader. political fortunes.

The digital campaign, titled “Your opinion, our decision”, was launched on January 15, with the aim of collecting citizens’ suggestions for political reforms. The process was proposed by President Saied ahead of a referendum on a new draft constitution scheduled for July 25, a day that marks the completion of a year after the president dismissed the government, suspended parliament and seized the full powers.

This unprecedented initiative, which runs until March 20, is the first step in a roadmap announced by President Saied on December 13.

He said there would be an online public consultation on the revision of the Tunisian constitution; that a commission would be appointed to draft the proposed amendments before the constitutional referendum in July; that new parliamentary elections would take place on 17 December, a date declared as “the official anniversary of the revolution”.

Consultation includes — politics and elections, economy and finance, society, development, health, education and culture. Each topic also has questions with space for free expression.

To give their opinion, users are required to register on the portal with their national identity number, requesting a secret code which will be sent to their mobile phone by SMS, a system which has posed security and Protection of personal data.

“I don’t know how confidential it is, I’m not ready to give out my details and then be identified by my personal ID,” said Olfa, a middle-class citizen who preferred to hide her surname. TRT World.

FILE: President Kais Saied sacked Tunisia’s prime minister last July, suspended parliament and assumed executive power in what critics have called a coup. (AP)

An idea without substance?

Although she did not trust the purpose of the online exercise or the process, she took the initiative to access the platform through her brother’s phone number and then shared the questionnaire on Twitter in order to show users how to participate, what questions are asked and the technical problems encountered.

She cited a few issues such as having to log in with a different passcode each time after logging out and having to fill out the survey again because there was no “save” option. She also pointed out that participants had no way of keeping records of their entries and potentially had no basis for discussing opinions in the run-up to the referendum, as citizens are unlikely to remember the answers entered. .

Referring to the questions, Olfa said that some are difficult or too difficult for the average citizen to answer, either because of the complicated wording in Arabic or because some users are not educated enough to properly understand what is being asked. , or that some questions may elicit more than one response.

She also mentioned that in some parts of the questionnaire, users are asked not only to state the challenges in their region, which can then be used for local action plans, but also to propose solutions for these, even if ordinary people would not necessarily know how to answer it, not having technical knowledge in the various fields covered by the survey.

One of the main points of criticism is the imbalance in internet coverage and education among the country’s population. Only 45% of Tunisian households are connected to the internet and almost 18% of the population are illiterate, which means that the consultation process is likely to exclude a substantial part of Tunisians.

The authorities have assured that those who do not have access to the Internet will be able to give their opinion to local committees across the country.

Another major issue raised by critics is that the electronic consultation cannot replace a national dialogue, which the president has repeatedly promised to organize in recent months.

Many were enthusiastic about the ride.

“The comments recorded by citizens will put things back to zero. Changing the political system, which is the main focus of the consultation, reflects what the majority of Tunisians want,” said a 50-year-old bank manager who used the initials HF to protect her identity. World TRT in Tunis.

She intends to take part in the survey soon and has few reservations about the detrimental effect of uneducated users being persuaded to express their views one way rather than another.

Houda Toumi, 48, animator in a nursery school, does not plan to complete the questionnaire although she supports the initiative and any decision taken by the president.

“I completely trust Kais Saied as a clean and honest person. I am sure that if the consultation does not bring results, he will say so publicly and come up with another idea,” Toumi said, sitting outside a café in the Tunisian capital. She is more concerned about the mentalities among the Tunisians taking part in the exercise.

A couple walking down Avenue Habib Bourguiba in Tunis had opposing views on the investigation. Nizar K., 34, an officer in Tunisia’s National Guard, has already responded to the online survey even though his partner Chaima N., a 24-year-old business student, is hesitant to enroll, not knowing what impact it will have. the results of the consultation. .

“I decided to participate because I consider it a civic duty,” said Nizar, adding, “It’s a good way to define at least the outline of the national project.”

On the other hand, he suspects that the initiative is mainly aimed at building a positive public image of the president’s roadmap.

Chaima criticized the lack of inclusion in the process. “Accessibility to the platform is inequitable, there are regions cut off from internet coverage,” she said.

“As for illiterate people, their opinions may be influenced by others who try to help them complete the questionnaire,” the student added.

Olfa expressed similar concerns about the risk of bias or influencing answers provided by uneducated citizens.

“The volunteers who are supposed to help explain what is requested in the electronic form would translate from Arabic into the Tunisian dialect and end up providing their own interpretation, or formulate leading questions and therefore guide their answers,” he said. she stated.

Mohamed Naji, 70, has no clear position on the questionnaire because he had very little information about it.

“I know this platform but I don’t know anything about it. I don’t have internet access and couldn’t find any blueprints to guide me through the portal,” was his immediate reaction when World TRT approached him in one of the main streets of Tunis.

In downtown Tunis, Abdelwahab Ben Moussa, a 52-year-old computer engineer, warmly welcomed the initiative as a first opportunity to register citizens’ proposals.

“What we lacked until today is a management that tries to understand what people think and does not impose decisions contrary to their aspirations,” said Ben Moussa, while anticipating that the suggestions collected could not be taken into consideration to feed the drafting of the new constitution.

Leaving his doubts aside, however, he trusts the presidential strategy.

For Olfa, a critical problem is not knowing where the consultation process will take the country.

“I don’t see the real point of giving my answers, I have no idea how they would be used and what impact they might have,” she said.

The corruption monitoring group, IWatch, denounced the lack of transparency on the people involved in the development of the platform, the preparations of the questionnaire and the axes of the consultation, and what results and statistics will come out of the questionnaire. The organization also criticized the lack of representativeness of the diversity of the population in the national consultation.

The platform has registered around 98,000 participants so far, with more than 77% of men represented, almost half of them are in the over 40 age bracket and only 18% are in the age bracket. 20-29 year olds.

The churning in the country is happening against the backdrop of a political system in which all power is concentrated in the hands of Saied. Time will tell if the consultation will be enough to quell the volatile political climate amid growing socio-economic malaise, or if it will turn out to be just an idea with no real substance.

Source: World TRT