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Tunisia’s UGTT labour union re-elects leader

FILE PHOTO: Noureddine Taboubi, Secretary General of the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), speaks during an interview with Reuters in Tunis, Tunisia January 23, 2021. Picture taken January 23, 2021. REUTERS/Angus McDowall

Tunisia’s powerful UGTT labour union re-elected Noureddine Taboubi as its chairman on Saturday, as the country heads into a vital national turning point in which it might play a key role.

The news: Taboubi, the UGTT’s leader for the past five years, has maintained a cautious position in the months since President Kais Saied assumed executive power in a move his critics term a coup.

  • Any effort by Tunisia’s government to enact economic reforms sought by foreign donors in exchange for a financial rescue plan to avert an impending catastrophe that threatens to bankrupt Tunisia is considered as critical.
  • Its stance will also be critical for Saied’s efforts to reshape Tunisian politics after he suspended the elected parliament, brushed aside the democratic constitution to declare himself sovereign by decree, and seized control of the courts.
  • The UGTT is commonly regarded as Tunisia’s most powerful political player, with over a million members and the ability to shut down the country’s economy through strikes. It is also a rare organisation that can withstand presidential authority.
  • Saied has generally rejected the UGTT’s repeated calls to participate in a broad-based political and economic discourse on the crisis and his aspirations to change the constitution, and he did not see Taboubi again until January after meeting him in July.

What happened: Taboubi was re-elected at the union’s congress, which meets every five years, and the final statement emphasised the union’s call for an inclusive approach for fundamental changes in the political and legal systems that Saied is pursuing.

  • The president has effectively suspended the constitution, declaring that he has the power to rule by decree and seizing control of court nominations, measures that his critics argue threaten the rule of law.

UGTT’s appeal harkens back to its involvement following the 2011 revolution that delivered democracy and sparked the Arab Spring, when it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015 for working with other civil society organisations to prevent dangerous street polarisation.

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