Tunisia election: Outsider in lead stuns after most votes counted

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With two-third votes in presidential race counted, conservative constitutional law professor Kais Saied takes the lead.

TUNIS, Tunisia

Law professor and political outsider Kais Saied is leading Tunisia‘s presidential polls with two-thirds of the votes counted, the electoral commission said, after the country’s second free vote for head of state since the 2011 Arab Spring.

Saied was on 18.9 percent on Monday night, ahead of imprisoned media magnate Nabil Karoui, who was on 15.5 percent, according to the electoral commission, ISIE.

Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, a presidential hopeful whose popularity has been tarnished by a sluggish economy and the rising cost of living, could well turn out to be the election’s biggest loser.

ISIE figures showed him in fifth place with 7.4 percent of the vote, trailing both Ennahdha party candidate Abdelfattah Mourou and former defence minister Abdelkarim Zbidi.

“The anti-system strategy has won,” ISIE member Adil Brinsi told the AFP news agency, but added: “It’s not finished yet. Mourou could very easily move from third to second place.”

A smiling Saied, receiving journalists at a rented apartment serving as his campaign offices, said voters had “carried out a revolution within a legal framework… They want something new… new political thinking”.

It was up to civil society and democracy at the local administrative level to resolve Tunisia’s social problems, he said, while defending his own reputation as a conservative.

“Tunisia has always been an open country. It’s a moderate society. I am open to all modern ideas. We can discuss it,” Saied said.

Political neophyte Saied is a conservative constitutionalist who has shunned political parties and mass rallies; instead, he opted to go door-to-door to explain his policies.

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.

Saied also advocates a rigorous overhaul of the constitution and voting system, to decentralise power “so that the will of the people penetrates into central government and puts an end to corruption”.

“Kais Saied was unknown in Tunisia until after the 2011 revolution when he started coming on television shows breaking down the technicalities of the constitution,” said Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker, reporting from Tunis.

“He speaks classical Arabic and many people here jokingly call him a robot because he is so specific when it comes to citing the law. One voter described him as a clean and honest man who loves his country. We voted for others and look where it got us, he said.”

Al jezeera

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