Academic Wins Tunisia Presidential Poll By A Landslide

Academic Wins Tunisia Presidential Poll By A Landslide

Independent candidate and lawyer Kais Saied has beaten his opponent media tycoon Nabil Karoui in the second round of Tunisia's presidential election on Sunday, media reported, citing exit polls.

Kais Saied's supporters exploded with joy, celebrating on the main boulevard of Tunis even though official results from Sunday's runoff vote weren't expected until Tuesday.

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

Enigmatic former constitutional law professor Kais Saied spent nearly no money on his campaign and is regarded by his supporters as a humble man of principle, while his critics have attacked his conservative social views and backing by the moderate Islamist party Ennahda.

"This rivalry for Carthage palace (the presidency) is more exciting than a local derby (football match)", said a young man taking part in lively debate on Bourguiba Avenue in central Tunis ahead of the showdown.

The victor will inherit a country struggling to revive tourism, create jobs and stem Islamic extremism.

Tunisia's president has less direct control over policy than the prime minister and a separate legislative election last week created a deeply fractured parliament with no clear path to a new governing coalition.

Karoui, who says the allegations against him are politically motivated, campaigned by proxy through his wife and party.

Saied is an expert on constitutional law, who taught at the Tunis faculty of judicial and political sciences for almost two decades.

He sits poker-straight, his blank visage hiding any visible sign of emotion, and speaks in a staccato style - and in literary Arabic, a tongue inaccessible to many in Tunisia's rural interior.

Mr Karoui, who has not been convicted, presents himself as an advocate of Tunisia's poor and marginalised as the head of the recently founded centre-left Heart of Tunisia party.

"Now Tunisians are looking forward the future, and we are hopeful better things will come".

Voters are choosing between a media mogul and a retired law professor to help sustain the country's democracy.

Nabil Karoui, was only released from detention on Wednesday after spending most of the election campaign behind bars.

More than 100,000 police, soldiers and security forces guarded the 15,000 polling stations, notably on the borders with Libya and Algeria, and thousands of local and foreign observers monitored the vote.

During an unprecedented TV debate, Karoui promised to combat extremist violence by "attacking at its roots" and raising economic prospects in struggling provinces that are fertile recruiting grounds for the Islamic State group and other extremists. "I want to vote for a correct, serious person", she said. Ennahdha won the parliamentary election on October 6, followed by Karoui's Heart of Tunisia party.

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