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  • Tunisian presidential candidate Kais Saied after exit poll results were announced in a second round runoff of the presidential election in Tunis.

    Tunisian presidential candidate Kais Saied after exit poll results were announced in a second round runoff of the presidential election in Tunis. | Photo: Reuters

Published 13 October 2019
Opinion

Kais Saied won the presidential election runoff with more than 72 percent of the popular vote.

Tunisian independent candidate Kais Saied won the presidential election runoff held Sunday in the North African country, with more than 72 percent of the popular vote, according to two exit polls agencies. 

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Saied, a retired law professor gently nicknamed “Robocop,” for his particular social manners and his way of speaking due to the use of classical Arabic, won against business and media tycoon Nabil Karoui who earned less than 27.5 percent of the vote.

In Habib Bourguiba, the principal and central avenue in the capital Tunis, thousands of people gathered chanted songs and waved flags to celebrate their candidate’s victory.

The election followed a campaign more characterized by personality clashes than political differences. 

In a televised political debate held on Friday, both candidates faced each other in an event rarely seen in the Arab world. Saied presented his economic, domestic and foreign policies during the two hours debate; he insisted on his wish to help end the war in neighboring Libya and categorically rejected normalization with Israel.

“I watched the debate and the thinker [Saied] came across far better than the guy who has loads of money [Karoui]”, Taher Weshtati, a voter told the Middle East Eye.

Since the announcement in August of his run for the presidency, Karoui has been mired in controversy. Currently, he faces charges of money laundering and tax fraud, allegations he firmly denies.

As Tunisia has a parliamentary regime, the role of the president has less power than the role of the prime minister who forms the government and manages most offices.

The country’s premier will be chosen by the parliament in the coming months following last Sunday’s legislative elections.

Tunisian analyst Sami Hamdi said given the president’s role restrictions, it is unclear whether Saied will be able to keep his promises on.

“Saied was always expected to beat Karoui once he got to the second round. However, his success has created a conundrum. His predecessors [Mocef] Marzouki and [Beji Caid] Essebsi were isolated figures in the presidency, given the supremacy of parliament.”

“Saied is the anti-system candidate, but he oversees a badly divided parliament within which he himself has no representatives...It remains to be seen how he will deliver on the hope he has instilled in large numbers of young voters who voted for him”, the analyst said.

Tunisians went to polling stations on Sunday to choose the country’s second elected president since the 2011 uprising which saw the ousting of ex-dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. The vote had been brought forward by the death in July of 92-year-old president Beji Caid Essebsi.

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