Exit polls from Tunisia’s presidential runoff election yesterday show that Kais Saied recorded an overwhelming victory. The law professor was projected to have gotten over 50 percent ahead of the other candidate, Nabil Karoui, a media mogul.
State media reported that Saied won 76.9 percent of votes while Karoui, who was in detention for the most part of the elections on charges of money laundering and tax evasion, had 23.11 percent of votes. Both candidates won the first round on September 15, beating contenders from traditional political parties.
According to reports, the announcement of the exit polls sparked celebrations from supporters of Saied at his campaign offices in central Tunis. Fireworks were set off outside and supporters honked car horns, Al Jazeera said.
Addressing his supporters shortly after the announcement of his victory on Sunday, the 61-year-old independent candidate thanked “the young people who opened a new page of history.” Nearly 90 percent of 18- to 25-year-olds voted for Saied, according to estimates, compared with 49.2 percent of voters over 60.
Across the country, about 7.2 million people were registered to vote in more than 4,500 polling stations. According to the electoral commission, the turnout, at 38.2 percent three hours before voting ended, was higher than that of last week’s legislative elections.
Prior to the presidential decider, both finalists went head-to-head in a rare television debate on Friday night, which was widely viewed. The debate held just two days after Karoui was released from jail, having spent over a month in prison.
“This debate is decisive. Now that Nabil Karoui is free, I want to hear what he has to say,” said Tarek Neffeti, a Tunis. “One thing is sure, we have had enough of the promises of the system. The advantage with Kais Saied is that he is outside of the system.”
Since the first-round victory, Saied kept a low profile and later said that he would put his campaign on hold for “ethical reasons” based on the lack of equal opportunity between the two candidates.
Results from the overall elections are believed to reflect Tunisia’s shifting political landscape since the 2011 revolution. The country is widely regarded as a “successful Arab Spring story” due to its embrace of democracy but is grappling with a stagnant economy, high unemployment, failing public services and rising inflation.
Unemployment is around 15 percent and the cost of living has risen by almost a third since 2016. As a result, Tunisia has been under pressure from international lenders, mainly the International Monetary Fund (IMF), to revamp its economy.
With official results expected to confirm Saied’s victory later today, attention will turn to the new president – a low-profile, conservative law professor with no political experience – to fulfill his promises of fighting corruption, installing decentralization and building “a new Tunisia”.
But Karoui has said he would decide whether to appeal once the electoral commission had announced the official tally as he had been denied a chance to compete fairly due to his detention.