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The Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) recently attacked Tunisian President Kais Saied in the run-up to parliamentary elections on Dec. 17, raising the prospect of the union’s million-plus members going on strike and/or boycotting the polls.
Already over the weekend, hundreds took to the streets in Tunis demanding Saied’s resignation, and waving signs with “Degage,” the rallying cry of the 2011 revolution that sparked the Arab Spring and ousted former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali after nearly 25 years in office.
As Reuters reported, UGTT leader Noureddine Taboubi accused President Saied of flouting democracy and consolidating power. “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,” said Taboubi. “We will not hesitate to defend rights and freedoms whatever the cost.”
Saied shuttered parliament last year and ruled by decree until voters approved a new constitution that he had drafted in a referendum marked by low turnout and support. He says his moves are necessary to save Tunisia after years of crisis.
“There are so many enemies of democracy in Tunisia who want to do everything they can to torpedo the country’s democratic and social life from within,” he said in an interview with the Washington Post this week.
He added that “fake news” is the cause of widespread Western criticism of his steps to strengthen his presidential powers, and denounced unidentified “foreign forces” stirring up opposition to his rule.
However, summing up how many Tunisians feel about the election and the form of government that Saied has installed, Taboubi said the election had “no color and taste,” noted Al Jazeera, adding that the union boss was annoyed that in October Saied proposed the restructuring of state-owned enterprises, including cutting their subsidies, as part of a $2 billion deal for an International Monetary Fund bailout.
Reached in November, the IMF deal helped Tunisia avert a financial crisis amid soaring energy prices, worldwide inflation and other economic instability. Basic supplies are now hard to come by in the country. But it also put pressure on Saied to implement difficult economic reforms and bolster the North African country’s democratic institutions, argued Middle East and North Africa regional director Patricia Karam of the International Republican Institute, a non-profit affiliated with the Republican Party, in The Hill.
In a sign of the lukewarm sentiments about the election, authorities recently extended the deadline to register as a parliamentary candidate, citing low levels of interest, Al-Monitor wrote. Nobody was nominated to fill seats designated for Tunisian citizens living as expatriates in Asia and Australia, for example. The process of registering, acquiring voter signatures and receiving permission from authorities is also complicated. Around 1,400 people filed to run for parliament but only around 1,060 were accepted, for example.
The situation illustrates how Saied is an autocrat who wants to retain control but will bend over backwards to create the illusion of a free vote, said the Arab Center Washington DC, a nonpartisan think tank. New election laws, for example, eliminated quotas adopted after the revolution that ousted Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and gave women a much larger proportion of seats in the parliament, added the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Democracy requires buy-in. Without it, there is no legitimacy, just white noise.