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Academic wins Tunisia presidential poll by landslide

By AFP - Oct 13,2019 - Last updated at Oct 13,2019

Tunisia's presidential candidate Kais Saied waves to supporters as he leaves a polling station in the capital Tunis on Sunday during the second round of the presidential election (AFP photo)

TUNIS  — Conservative academic Kais Saied Sunday won a landslide victory in Tunisia's presidential runoff, sweeping aside his rival, media magnate Nabil Karoui, state television Wataniya said.

It said he scooped almost 77 per cent of the vote, compared to 23 per cent for Karoui.

News of the victory triggered celebrations at the retired law professor's election campaign offices in central Tunis, as fireworks were set off outside and supporters honked car horns.

The political newcomers — one dubbed Tunisia's "Berlusconi" the other nicknamed "Robocop" — swept aside the old guard in the first round, highlighting voter anger over a stagnant economy, joblessness and poor public services in the cradle of the Arab Spring.

"There is a lot of unemployment, so we need a president who works hard for the economy", said Ibdisseme Adaili, who cast her ballot in the capital Tunis.

Adding controversy and suspense to the contest, presidential contender Nabil Karoui only walked free on Wednesday, having spent more than a month behind bars on suspicion of money laundering.

The poll, Tunisia's second free presidential elections since the 2011 revolt, follows the death of president Beji Caid Essebsi in July.

In one polling station, voters said they were divided between "the one who will apply the law" and the one "who helps the poor", referring to a charity television show that boosted Karoui's popularity.

"Today is a chance to recover our Tunisia, the modern Tunisia that is for women... not the Tunisia that frightens us", said Karoui after casting his vote in Tunis.

The 56-year-old business tycoon and media mogul portrays himself as a bulwark against political Islam, which he accuses his rival Kais Saied of supporting.

Saied, a constitutional law expert, called for Tunisians "to make a choice today in complete freedom".

"You have created a new concept of revolution, let your conscience guide you and you will win your sovereignty", said the 61-year-old independent candidate.

Saied campaigned upon the values of the 2011 revolution, based on opposition to westernised and corrupt elites, and in favour of radical decentralisation.

‘Car-sharing’ voters 


Some Tunisians organised car-sharing and free transport for students who have to travel far to their hometowns to cast their ballots.

“I am doing it out of love for my country. I support the one who embodies hope for Tunisia,” said taxi driver Bakri who was offering free rides to Saied supporters between Tunis and the coastal city of Nabeul.

At the Ban Alouia terminal in Tunis, 35-year-old Reda joined the crowds to catch a bus to his hometown of Kabylie, 450 kilometres away.

“It is important to vote... it is a duty. The two candidates are very different. One could help the country advance, the other sink it,” he said.

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