Tunisia’s powerful UGTT trade union has refused to participate in a national dialogue proposed by President Kais Saied, its spokesperson has said, arguing the process excluded democratic forces.
Saied sacked the democratically-elected government last July before dissolving parliament and seizing control of the judiciary, in moves opponents called a coup against the only democracy to emerge from the 2010 Arab Spring uprisings.
On Friday, he appointed a loyalist law professor to head a body charged with rewriting the 2014 constitution, which was a product of the inclusive democratic process following the Arab Spring protests that toppled long-time leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Political parties have been barred from a role in forming the new constitution.
The president has defended the power grab, saying his moves were legal and needed to save Tunisia from a prolonged political and economic crisis.
UGTT – also known as the Tunisian General Labor Union – has demanded a meaningful national dialogue on both political and economic reforms, but it rejected Saied’s unilateral moves.
“We reject any formal dialogue in which roles are determined unilaterally and from which civil and political forces are excluded,” UGTT Spokesperson Sami Tahri said.
UGTT Secretary-General Noureddine Taboubi said at a meeting of its executive committee that the proposed dialogue, which “ignores influential political actors” in the country “will not be able to resolve the crisis in the country or lay out a better future for it”.
The UGTT also announced on Monday that it will hold a national strike over wages and the economy.
With more than a million members, the UGTT is Tunisia’s most powerful political force and its call for a strike may present the biggest challenge yet to President Saied after his takeover and moves to rule by decree.
The date of the strike, by UGTT members working in public services and state companies, will be announced later, Tahri said.
Saied’s government is in talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout, seen as necessary to ward off national bankruptcy, but the UGTT has rejected proposed spending cuts and instead wants wage increases for state workers.
Saied’s July 25 power grab was welcomed by many Tunisians tired of a frequently deadlocked post-revolutionary democracy.
But his opponents, including the Islamist Ennahda party that has dominated the country’s post-revolution politics, have warned of a return to autocracy.
On Sunday, the Ennahda party rejected President Saied’s decision to name members of the advisory committee to draft the new constitution, saying the measure was “a complete deviation from constitutional legitimacy”.