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Saeid elected Tunisian president by 72.71 per cent — commission

Saeid garners 2.7 million votes, Karoui receives one million

By AFP - Oct 14,2019 - Last updated at Oct 14,2019

Conservative academic Kais Saeid celebrates his victory in the Tunisian presidential election in the capital Tunis on Sunday (AFP photo)

TUNIS  — Conservative political outsider Kais Saeid has won Tunisia's presidential election by a landslide taking 72.71 per cent of the votes, the North African country's electoral commission said Monday.

Saeid garnered 2.7 million votes against one million received by his rival business tycoon Nabil Karoui in Sunday's runoff, the commission said.

The vote — the second presidential election since 2014 — reflected Tunisia's shifting political landscape since the 2011 Arab Spring uprising that ousted an autocratic regime.

Saeid, a retired law professor with a rigid and austere demeanour that earned him the nickname "Robocop", was carried to victory by young voters, wooed by his anti-establishment platform.

Around 90 per cent of 18- to 25-year-olds voted for Saeid, according to estimates by the Sigma polling institute, compared with 49.2 per cent of voters over 60.

According to Tunisian law, the results can still be appealed within two weeks before the new president is sworn in at the end of the month.

The electoral commission ISIE said turnout was 55 per cent, slightly lower from an initial figure of 58 per cent announced Sunday after the runoff.

It noted, however, that turnout was higher than during the first round on September 15.

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

Born in Tunis on February 22, 1958 into a middle-class family, Saeid is an expert on constitutional law who taught at the Tunis faculty of judicial and political sciences from 1999 to 2018.

He retired last year, and launched an unorthodox election campaign that saw him shun mass rallies and focus instead on door-to-door canvassing for votes.


The ‘professor’


Some of his supporters still address him as “professor” — even though he has few published works and never earned a PhD.

He has two daughters and a son. His wife, a judge, has remained behind the scenes through much of his campaign.

Saeid has been nicknamed “Robocop” because of his rigid self-presentation and speech and posture and expressionless demeanour.

But several of his former students have praised Saeid, saying that beneath his tough exterior is a devoted teacher.

“He could spend hours outside class time explaining a lesson or helping us understand why we’d received a certain grade on an exam,” one of his students tweeted.

He was “a serious teacher, sometimes theatrical, but always available and ready to listen”, said Nessim Ben Gharbia, a journalist who took a course with Saeid from September 2011 to June 2012.

Among his supporters are activists he met during the 2011 protests that raged following the ouster of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, demanding a complete overhaul of the political system.

Saeid became a household name when he became a regular political commentator on TV during the drafting of the constitution adopted in 2014.

Among his policy pledges are a radical decentralisation of power, along with the creation of a new network of elected local councils led by officials who would face the sack if they abuse their power.

In an online video, he is seen defending his vision as a roadmap to ensure “that the will of the people reaches all the way up through the highest ranks of the central government, and to put an end to corruption”.

The support he has built has been buoyed by a broad rejection among voters of the post-Arab Spring political establishment.

While Tunisia has succeeded in curbing terror attacks that rocked the key tourist sector in 2015, its economy remains hampered by austere International Monetary Fund-backed reforms.

In his own no-frills life, Saeid appears to embody the anti-corruption message he seeks to spread: he lives in a middle-class neighbourhood in Tunis and his office is housed in a run-down flat in the heart of the capital.

And while he makes no secret of his conservative views, he says he would respect the social freedoms enshrined in law in recent years that civil society groups have hailed as victories.

“We will not backpedal on the rights we have gained in terms of our freedoms, in terms of women’s rights,” Saeid has said.

Yet he rejects a bid to overhaul Tunisia’s inheritance law — which remains based on Islamic law, meaning that women inherit half of their male siblings’ part.

But experts refute that he is an Islamist.

“He is indeed an ultra-conservative, but he is no Islamist. He does not make his personal convictions his priorities,” constitutional law expert and Saeid’s former teacher Iyadh Ben Achour told French newspaper La Croix in a recent interview.

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