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Trade union chief poses new threat to Saïed

Unions threaten to end cooperation with the President ahead of heavily controlled parliamentary vote

In elections on 17 December, President Kaïs Saïed is expected to get the docile parliament he wants. It will be shaped by his constitutional reform programme, approved on a tiny turnout in July, which denudes the House of Representatives of the power to impeach the President or have any significant role in forming a government (AC Vol 63 No 14, Saïed ratchets up the autocracy).

A total of 1,058 candidates will contest the legislative elections, competing for 161 seats in the House of Representatives.

Twelve parties, including the Islamist Ennahda and Heart of Tunisia, as well as the parties of 'Let the People Win' alliance, are boycotting the elections. Together they account for around 75% of the seats in the old parliament. Most of the candidate contesting this month are independents.

The opposition are banking on a tiny turnout to deny President Saïed any legitimacy, although they expect that the official turnout figures will be heavily inflated. The umbrella civil society group, Citizens Against the Coup, says that turnout for the constitutional referendum in July was lower than 10%, far below the 30% officially stated by the Independent High Authority for Elections (Dispatches, 28/9/22, President Saïed's election plan faces mass boycott challenge & 19/10/22, African Union offers hope for oppositionists seeking diplomatic support).

A greater challenge to President Saied's authority is posed by labour union leader Nourreddine Taboubi who has said that the December election would 'have no colour and taste' and is undemocratic.

'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,' he said, adding that 'we will not hesitate to defend rights and freedoms whatever the cost.'

Since Saïed's move in July 2021 to sack the government, suspend parliament and rule by decree, described as a coup by opposition forces, mass protests have not been backed up by strikes. That could change. Taboubi's statements are his strongest critiques of the president since the coup and the Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail has more than a million members.

'We will not abide by secret agreements the government has with the IMF and the workers will stand up to it,' Taboubi said, a clear warning to Saied who has proposed a series of subsidy cuts and the restructuring of state-owned companies as part of a push for an IMF bailout.

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