Two political outsiders – law professor Kais Saied and detained media mogul Nabil Karoui – are set to advance to the next round of Tunisia’s presidential polls, the electoral board said Tuesday.
The result was a major upset for Tunisia’s political establishment, in place since the uprising eight years ago that ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
It could usher in a period of uncertainty for the fledgling North African democracy, the sole success story of the Arab Spring revolts. This year marks the second presidential election since the uprising.
Venturing into the Unknown
Both candidates – though very different – are seen as outsiders, drawing “anti-system” votes from an electorate disillusioned with the status quo.
Mistrust of the political establishment runs high in Tunisia, where unemployment is at 15 percent and the cost of living has risen by close to a third since 2016.
Tunisian voters on Sunday “preferred to venture into the unknown rather than extend a hand again to those who betrayed their hopes,” Le Quotidien newspaper said.
Tunisia goes to the polls today for its second presidential election since the 2011 revolution. 26 candidates, unclear who will win – looks like democracy. I’ll post some updates throughout the day. #TnElection pic.twitter.com/LVUuZ7dpeW
— Ben Hubbard (@NYTBen) September 15, 2019
The electoral commission, ISIE, reported low turnout at 45 percent, down from 64 percent in the country’s first democratic polls in 2014.
“The abstention was a sign of a rejection of the system rather than disinterest,” said political scientist Hamza Meddeb.
Saied gained 18.4 percent of votes and Karoui 15.6 percent, giving them places in a runoff likely to be held early next month.
Local papers splashed photos of Saied and Karoui across their front pages on Monday.
“Political earthquake,” read the headline of Arabic language Echourouk newspaper, while Francophone Le Temps entitled its editorial “The Slap.”
Saied, a fiercely independent academic, advocates radical decentralization of power, with local democracy and the ability to remove elected officials from office during their mandates.
Karoui, who built his appeal on high-profile charity campaigns, is under investigation for alleged money laundering and has been in pre-trial detention since August 23.
Potential appeals notwithstanding, the second round could be held the same day as legislative elections on October 6, or a week later, the electoral commission has said.
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