By Tarek Amara and Angus McDowall
TUNIS (Reuters) -Tunisia’s influential labour union on Friday rejected key elements of President Kais Saied’s seizure of near total power and warned of a threat to democracy as opposition widened against a move his foes call a coup.
Saied this week brushed aside much of the 2014 constitution https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/tunisia-president-takes-new-powers-says-will-reform-system-2021-09-22, giving himself power to rule by decree two months after he sacked the prime minister, suspended parliament and assumed executive authority.
The crisis has endangered the democratic gains that Tunisians won in a 2011 revolution that triggered the “Arab spring” protests and has also slowed efforts to tackle an urgent threat to public finances, worrying investors.
Saied has said his actions are needed to address a crisis of political paralysis, economic stagnation and a poor response to the coronavirus pandemic. He has promised to uphold rights and not become a dictator.
Tunisia remains without a prime minister, though Saied has repeatedly said he will appoint one soon.
The statement by the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), one of the most powerful players in Tunisian politics, means most of the political class has now come out in opposition to Saied, including the major parties.
The union, which has a million members, warned against consolidating power in the president’s hands alone and said his declaration that he will appoint a commission to amend the political system was also a threat.
“The UGTT rejects the president’s monopoly on amendments and considers this a danger to democracy,” it said.
‘WARNING SIGNS BLINKING RED’
Tunisia’s largest political party, the moderate Islamist Ennahda, has called Saied’s moves “a flagrant coup against democratic legitimacy” and called for people to unite and defend democracy in “a tireless peaceful struggle”.
Four other political parties issued a joint statement condemning Saied on Wednesday and another large party, Heart of Tunisia, has also done so.
On Friday the Achaab party, which has been close to Saied, as well as five small parties, said they backed his move and asked to participate in preparing reforms.
A first protest against Saied since his intervention on July 25 took place last week. Another has been called for Saturday but no party has yet backed it.
The president’s declaration on Wednesday set out the framework within which he says he will rule during an undefined period of “exceptional measures” while he prepares a new constitution with help from a handpicked committee.
Amnesty International’s head Agnes Callamard said on Friday that Saied’s moves could quickly lead to authoritarianism and that “the warning signs are blinking red”.
There has been no formal comment since Wednesday from Western democracies – major donors to Tunisia.
However, investors are increasingly worried. Tunisia’s bonds were among the worst performers in the JPMorgan EMBI index for developing sovereign hard-currency bonds over the past week.
Many of the issues maturing in 2024 are trading in the mid-80s – their lowest level in almost two months – following a steady decline since mid-August.
Five-year credit default swaps, reflecting the cost of insuring exposure against default of the bonds issued by the country’s central bank, have rocketed to a record high of 833 basis points on Thursday.
“The main concern is that Tunisia’s dire public finances will be left unaddressed for longer, which reinforces our view that the government will have to restructure its debts,” said James Swanston, Middle East and North Africa Economist at Capital Economics.
(Reporting by Tarek Amara; Additional reporting by Karin Strohecker in London and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Timothy Heritage, Andrew Heavens and Grant McCool)