The results came as a sharp rejection of the political elites and established forces that have ruled the country since the 2011 revolution.
Tunisia's Electoral Commission (ISIE) confirmed Tuesday that law professor Kais Saied and jailed media mogul Nabil Karoui won the most votes in Sunday's presidential election, heading thus to the runoff.
The date of the second and final round has not been announced, but it must happen by Oct. 23.
"Tunisians have written a new and brilliant page in the history of the country," Saied told reporters at his headquarters in the heart of the capital after the announcement.
"I am an independent, but I am ready to work with all parties to build a new Tunisia."
Karoui's Qalb Tounes party did not release any immediate statement, with their candidate still in jail over allegations of tax evasion and money laundering.
The announcement, following a full count of votes, confirmed exit polls released on Sunday evening and partial results issued throughout Monday.
Saied took 18.4 percent of the votes and Karoui 15.6 percent. Tunisia’s prime minister, two former prime ministers, the defense minister, and a former president were among the political heavyweights competing, along with moderate Islamist party Ennahda’s Mourou.
“We received the message sent by the Tunisian people,” Prime Minister Youssef Chahed said late Sunday, conceding defeat.
The results came as a sharp rejection of the political elites and established forces that have ruled the country since the 2011 revolution but failed to address economic problems including high unemployment which stands at 15 percent and inflation.
Saied, who always speaks as if in a faculty meeting in didactic, ultra-correct formal Arabic, drives a shabby old car and wants to remain in his humble house if elected rather than move into the luxurious presidential palace at Carthage.
A social conservative who backs restoring the death penalty and rejects equal inheritance for men and women, Saied’s main focus is decentralization in a country where politicians in the capital have traditionally dominated.
Le candidat arrivé au premier tour des #electionstunisie Qays Saïd : "Nous sommes en guerre avec #Israel et ceux qui normalisent leurs relations avec l'ennemi sont des traîtres qui doivent être jugés".— Actuarabe (@actuarabe) September 16, 2019
La #France le laissera-t-il l'emporter au second après de tels propos ? https://t.co/B9fW59s6y4
Several losing conservative candidates, including former President Moncef Marzouki, came out in support of Saied. Ennahda congratulated the two candidates without formally backing either. No losing candidates have yet endorsed Karoui.
Karoui has for years used his television station Nessma and the charity he founded after his son died, to present himself as a champion of the poor and a scourge of government, while his critics describe him as an ambitious, unscrupulous, and a populist.
He was detained weeks before the election over tax evasion and a money laundering case brought three years ago by an independent transparency watchdog.
Karoui denies all claims of wrongdoing against him, including old tax evasion and money laundering charges for which he was detained late last month and spent election day in jail, calling them an "undemocratic plot."
His wealth and massive electoral organization stand in sharp contrast to Saied, who spent so little on his campaign that Tunisians joke it cost no more than a coffee and packet of cigarettes.
A Karoui victory in the second round could raise difficult legal and constitutional questions given his legal status, in a case for which no verdict has yet been delivered.
The commission said that if Karoui wins the runoff, it will send his name to the parliament and the matter will then be for it and the judiciary to resolve. A constitutional court, mandated by the 2014 constitution, has not yet been set up.
Tunisia opted for a parliamentary system after 2011, in which the president has limited powers, controlling foreign and defense policy, while the prime minister appointed by the parliament manages other portfolios.
Tunisia's main political parties are now turning to a parliamentary election on Oct. 6.