Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 12 November 2019

Outsider Kais Saied expected to become Tunisian president

Exit polls suggest conservative academic took almost 77 per cent of vote

Political newcomer Kais Saied is expected to become the next Tunisian president, exit polls said on Sunday evening.

Mr Saied delivered a stunning defeat to TV mogul Nabil Karoui, taking almost 77 per cent of the vote, exit polls by Sigma Conseil show.

The official results are yet to be announced.

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

"Kais Saied, voice of the people," a gathered crowd chanted. "Long live Tunisia."

Mustafa El Ghali, a family member of Mr Saied, said: "We are very happy. Tunisia has an honest man at the helm now.

"The difference between the two candidates was the work he has been doing

Mr Karoui, 56, campaigned from prison after being arrested on charges of money laundering and tax fraud, which he denies.

He was freed by a court order four days ago and obtained 15.6 per cent of the vote in the first round of voting, compared to Mr Saied’s 18.4 per cent.

Adel Brinsi, a member of the country's Independent Higher Authority for Elections, said voter turnout "exceeded 50 per cent”, Mosaique FM reported.

The anti-establishment Mr Saied is regarded as uptight and unwavering, but beneath his austere style is a commitment to socially conservative views and to decentralising Tunisia's political system.

He has defended the death penalty, criminalisation of homosexuality and a sexual assault law that punishes unmarried couples who engage in public displays of affection.

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

Tunisian presidential candidate Kais Saied and his wife Ichraf Chebil react after exit poll results were announced in a second round runoff of the presidential election in Tunis, Tunisia October 13, 2019. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi
Tunisian presidential candidate Kais Saied and his wife Ichraf Chebil react after exit poll results were announced in a second round runoff of the presidential election in Tunis, Tunisia October 13, 2019. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

He retired last year and launched an unorthodox election campaign in which he shunned mass rallies and focused on door-to-door canvassing for votes.

Some of his supporters still address Mr Saied 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 stayed behind the scenes through much of his campaign.

Mr Saied has been nicknamed "RoboCop" because of his rigid speech, posture and expressionless demeanour.

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

Mr Saied became a household name as 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 and a new network of elected local councils led by officials who face the sack if they abuse their power.

And while he makes no secret of his conservative views, Mr Saied says he would respect social freedom enshrined in law in recent years, which civil groups have hailed as victories.

"We will not back-pedal on the rights we have gained in terms of our freedoms, in terms of women's rights," he said.

But he rejects a bid to overhaul Tunisia's inheritance law that is still based on Islamic law, meaning women inherit half of their male siblings' share.

"He is indeed an ultraconservative, but he is no Islamist," constitutional law expert and Mr Saied's former teacher, Iyadh Ben Achour, told French newspaper La Croix.

"He does not make his personal convictions his priorities."

Updated: October 14, 2019 09:52 AM

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