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Key Tunisian players signal they oppose suspending constitution

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September 11, 2021

TUNIS (Reuters) -Tunisia’s powerful labour union and the biggest party in its parliament on Saturday both signalled their opposition to any attempt by the president to suspend the constitution and offer his own version unilaterally.

President Kais Saied seized governing powers on July 25, citing an emergency clause in the constitution to dismiss the prime minister and suspend parliament, moves his political critics call a coup.

It has thrust Tunisia into its biggest political crisis since the 2011 revolution that ousted an autocratic regime and introduced democracy.

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This week one of Saied’s advisers, Walid Hajjem, told Reuters that the president was planning to suspend the 2014 constitution and offer a new version himself via a referendum.

However, the UGTT labour union on Saturday called for legislative elections to allow a new parliament to debate the constitution and change the political system, an implicit rejection of what Hajjem said Saied was contemplating.

The moderate Islamist Ennahda, the biggest party in the now suspended parliament and a key player in successive Tunisian governments, also rejected any such move.

In a statement, the party said the 2014 constitution formed the basis of Tunisia’s political and social contract and the legitimacy of both its parliament and president, and that deviating from it would mean a retreat from democracy.

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Despite indefinitely extending emergency measures, Saied has rejected accusations of a coup, but nearly seven weeks after his intervention, he has not appointed a new prime minister or formally declared how he plans to rule.

The UGTT, which has more than a million members, is one of the most powerful political forces in Tunisia and was instrumental in bringing together rival political blocs after the 2011 revolution.

Smaller political parties, including some that voiced support for Saied’s July 25 intervention, have rejected the idea of his suspending the constitution and unilaterally offering a new one.

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Western democracies, which have been important donors for Tunisia’s battered public finances in recent years, have pushed Saied to quickly name a prime minister and set out a path forward.

(Reporting by Tarek Amara;Writing by Angus McDowall;Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Christina Fincher)

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