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The UGTT union engages in an arm wrestling match with Tunisian president Kaïs Saïed

Written by Frédéric Dubessy on Wednesday, May 25th 2022 à 12:00 | Read 317 times

Ten months after assuming full powers, Tunisian President Kaïs Saïed is struggling to rally support for his proposed new constitution at a time when legislative elections are scheduled for December 2022 and a new form of voting must be defined.

Nourredine Taboubi and Kaïs Saïed could not agree on the participation of the UGTT in the consultative commission (photo: DR)
Nourredine Taboubi and Kaïs Saïed could not agree on the participation of the UGTT in the consultative commission (photo: DR)
TUNISIA. On Monday 23 May 2022, after meeting him the day before, Noureddine Tababi, secretary general of the UGTT (Tunisian General Labour Union), refused to participate in the dialogue initiated by Tunisian President Kaïs Saïed as part of his consultations for the rewriting of the constitution.

The Head of State wants to gather ideas for reform from civil society through a national consultative commission for a new Republic. Officialised on Friday 20 May 2022, it comprises three structures a consultative committee for economic and social affairs composed of representatives of the UGTT, UTICA (Tunisian Union of Industry, Commerce and Handicrafts), UTAP (Tunisian Union of Agriculture and Fisheries), UNFT (National Union of Tunisian Women) and LTDH (Tunisian League of Human Rights); a consultative committee for legal affairs (deans of the faculties of law, legal and political sciences); and a committee for national dialogue (members of the two previous committees and coordinator of the national consultative commission, Dean Sadok Belaïd).

Political parties excluded from discussions on the new constitution

While the LTDH has already indicated its willingness to participate (on the condition that it is also present in its legal committee), the UGTT's about-face undermines the presidential project of a national consultative commission for a new Republic. "We reject any formal, hasty, late dialogue, in which the roles are unilaterally determined, imposed and from which the national civil and political forces are excluded," said Sami Tahri, spokesman for the very powerful employees' union, claiming more than one million members.

"We renew our support for dialogue as the only way out of the complex crisis that the country is going through," said the UGTT in a statement published on its website on Monday 23 May 2022. The text stresses that "the creation of the National Consultative Commission for a New Republic did not emanate from consultation or prior agreement, is not up to national aspirations, and does not meet the expectations of sincere patriotic forces who saw in the event of July 25, 2021 a historic opportunity to break with a dark decade and build a corrective path that founds a true democracy with social justice.

Kaïs Saïed said a few days ago that political parties would not be able to play a role in the drafting of the new constitution that will replace the one of January 2014. Adopted three years after the Jasmine Revolution and designed through a debate involving the political and social components of the country, it had allowed Tunisia to enter a new era to erase more than two decades of dictatorship under the presidency of Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. However, political differences have not yet made it possible to establish a real democracy, as shown by the attitude of Kaïs Saïed, who has arrogated full powers to himself.

The UGTT is preparing a general strike

Today, the political parties are protesting against the president's desire to exclude them from discussions on the main political reforms, such as the writing of the new constitution, but also the definition of the new voting system for the legislative elections.

In April 2022, Kaïs Saïed promised them for December 2022 in response to demonstrations whose slogans "the people want to overthrow the coup d'état" were aimed directly at him. He then gave pledges of democracy by telling them "Tunisians have been disappointed by the Assembly of People's Representatives, but the next parliament will reflect their will with sincerity and authenticity, unlike what happened in the past decades."

If the president wants to call Tunisians to the polls before the end of the year, the UGTT wants them to take to the streets very soon. The union plans to organise a general strike soon (no date has been given) to put pressure on the state and obtain a meaningful national dialogue on political and economic reforms. It will mainly concern employees working in public enterprises and services.

These demonstrations would make it possible to take the pulse of the population, almost a year after the Tunisian president's decision, on 25 July 2021, to take full powers by freezing the activities of the ARP, lifting the immunity of the deputies, sacking his Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi (replaced at the end of September 2021 by Najla Bouden Rhomdane) and, in February 2022, pronouncing the dissolution of the Superior Council of the Magistrature.


Rejected but indispensable reforms

Noureddine Taboubi advocates what he calls a "third way". He refuses any return to the pre-25 July 2021 (date of full presidential powers) - "a time when the state was dominated by failure and when the state was abused and transformed into a booty", underlines a statement of the union -, and rejects "any non-inclusive dialogue with pre-established results".

Tunisia is still waiting for a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a real lifeline for a country in the midst of an economic and social crisis, on the verge of bankruptcy. But the release of these 4 billion dollars (3.79 billion euros) will only be granted if the head of state carries out essential reforms. A task made all the more difficult by the fact that the UGTT has spoken out against the proposed spending cuts (and demanded by the IMF) while demanding wage increases for civil servants.

In an interview granted to France 24 on Friday 20 May 2022, Samir Saïed affirmed, while not wanting to "deny the problems we are currently facing", that "the Tunisian economy is not at risk of collapsing." For the Tunisian Minister of Economy and Planning, "the implementation of reforms will not be easy, but it is not impossible."

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