Middle East Online (September 02, 2004)

Ben Ali’s re-election bid receives endorsement of labor unions

Tunis - Exclusive--
few weeks before the presidential elections scheduled in Tunisia next October 24th, President Zine El Al Abidine Ben Ali's re-election bid has received the endorsement of the General Union of Tunisian Workers, the country's labor union federation, and that of the Social Democratic Movement, one of Tunisia's main opposition parties.

In another development, Mr Abdelwahab El Behi, a senior lawyer, will preside over the newly-created National Observatory for presidential and legislative elections, it was announced in Tunis.

Mr Abdelwahab Behi, who is currently the president of the Tunis International Arbitration Center, will head the observatory which is to monitor "all conditions pertaining to the various stages of election."

Mr Behi is yet to announce the makeup of his observatory expected to include a number of known national figures.

The trade unions endorsement came after the national administrative commission of the General Union of Tunisian Workers met to discuss the issue on Friday.

"The administrative commission of the General Union of Tunisian Workers has decided, after a free and democratic discussion, to endorse your candidacy to the next presidential term and to call upon trade-unionists and workers to vote for you in implementation of this decision," wrote Mr Abdessalem Jerad, Secretary General of the workers union in a message to President Ben Ali.

The General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT) is one of the oldest and most independent trade union federations in Africa.

"The decision by the administrative commission of the General Union of Tunisian Workers is only natural considering what the trade-unionists have received from you in terms of your support for the independence of the General Union of Tunisian Workers, your standing by the workers and being attentive to their concerns and aspirations, your continued promotion of social dialogue and consolidation of mutual-help and national solidarity.

"This decision constitutes also a recognition of the successes achieved by our country under your wise leadership in the various fields in a manner that has ensured the stability of our society and safeguarded the purchasing power of the workers, improved the living conditions of citizens, consolidated the achievements of Tunisian women. Such achievements have spared Tunisia the dangers of violence and extremism, allow us to look forward, with optimism, to your next five-year term as a term where additional accomplishments will be achieved towards anchoring freedoms, boosting our development effort and consolidating our people's social and civilizational achievements," he added.

Earlier this month, The Social Democratic Movement, the leading opposition party in parliament, announced its endorsement of the candidacy of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to next presidential elections.

The opposition party said it has decided to endorse the candidacy of President Ben Ali in order to "finish building democratic pluralism" and facilitate Tunisia's access to "the rank of developed nations based on its own capabilities and resources."

Three opposition leaders have declared their own candidacy to the office of president.

One of them is Mr Mohamed Bouchiha, secretary general of the Popular Unity Party (PUP). The second declared candidate is Mr Mounir Beji, the president of the Social Liberal Party (PSL). The third to announce his candidacy was Mr Mohamed Ali Halouani, representing "Ettajdid" party (former communist).

Electoral reforms introduced prior to the 2004 elections have eased the conditions for running for the office of President.

The incumbent, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, has announced last July his acceptance of his party's decision to nominate him as its candidate for next elections.

Legislative elections will take place the same day than presidential elections, on October 24, 2004. Among the country's seven opposition parties, five are today represented in Parliament. The Democratic Constitutional Rally holds the majority in the Chamber of Deputies.