Tunisia’s powerful labour union has issued its clearest challenge to President Kais Saied yet, rejecting his political and economic agenda and saying it will not tolerate what it called a threat to democracy.
“We no longer accept the current path because of its ambiguity and individual rule, and the unpleasant surprises it hides for the fate of the country and democracy,” Noureddine Taboubi, leader of the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), said in a speech to thousands of supporters on Saturday.
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“We will not hesitate to defend rights and freedoms whatever the cost,” he added.
Saied shut down the elected parliament last year and moved to rule by decree before writing a new constitution that was passed mid-year in a referendum with low turnout, setting up elections for a new, weakened legislature.
The president’s critics have denounced his moves as a coup and have held repeated street protests. Saied has said his actions were necessary to save Tunisia.
The parliamentary vote is set to take place on December 17 but most political parties are boycotting the poll, faulting procedures the president has decreed including bringing the electoral commission under his purview.
Other electoral changes such as ending the public financing of campaigns will also make it difficult for women to run for office, the United States-based group Human Rights Watch warned.
Taboubi, on Saturday, described the vote as having “no colour and taste,” and the product of a constitution that does not enjoy national unanimity.
Though it repeatedly voiced concern, the one-million-member union had previously refrained from openly opposing the president’s agenda, except for a strike in the middle of the year over wages and spending cuts.
The new government appointed by Saied in October recently angered the UGTT by proposing subsidy cuts and the restructuring of state-owned companies, in a push for an IMF bailout needed to avert national bankruptcy.
Last month, the union called for a general strike in the region of Sfax, a day after a demonstrator died from inhaling tear gas fired to disperse protests against the reopening of a landfill site.
It demanded that the perpetrators be held accountable.
The UGTT has proven capable of paralysing the economy with strikes that closed airports, public transport, ports and government offices.