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17.09.2019 Tunisia

Professor, prisoner expected to face off in Tunisia runoff

By AFP
Tunisia presidential frontrunners Nabil Karoui, (L) a media magnate jailed on corruption charges, and law professor Kais Saied.  By Hasna, FETHI BELAID (AFP/File)
SEP 17, 2019 TUNISIA
Tunisia presidential frontrunners Nabil Karoui, (L) a media magnate jailed on corruption charges, and law professor Kais Saied. By Hasna, FETHI BELAID (AFP/File)

Official results in Tunisia's presidential election were expected Tuesday to confirm a duel in the second round between law professor Kais Saied and imprisoned media mogul Nabil Karoui.

With almost 90 percent of ballots counted, Saied was set to advance to the next round, with 18.8 percent of the vote ahead of Karoui, who had 15.7 percent, according to the electoral commission, ISIE.

Depending on if any appeals are launched, the second round could be organised for October 6, the same day as legislative elections, or on October 13, ISIE said.

The two candidates -- though very different -- have drawn on the same "anti-system" sentiment among the electorate, spurred by exasperation with the status quo.

Unemployment plagues about 15 percent of the population, especially young graduates, while inflation eats away at already low incomes.

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.

Karoui's arrest in the runup to the election cemented his status as an outsider, despite being a longtime key supporter of president Beji Caid Essebsi, whose death on July 25 brought forward the polls.

Saied, a fiercely independent academic, advocates a radical decentralisation of power, with local democracy and the ability to remove elected officials from office during their mandates.

ISIE also said it is to investigate alleged electoral violations, including campaigning on behalf of Karoui by Nessma TV, founded by the media mogul.

Karoui himself is under investigation for alleged money laundering and has been in pre-trial detention since August 23.

Appeals to have him freed before the polls were rejected but his lawyers plan to refile for his release after the results are confirmed.

Karoui remains eligible to run despite his imprisonment, as long as any conviction does not also specifically deprive him of his civil rights, according to ISIE.

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