Tunisia starts 2nd round of presidential election


Thousands of supporters of presidential candidate Kais Saied thronged the grand boulevards of central Tunis in celebration late on Sunday after two exit polls said he was elected by a landslide.

The official results are expected Monday, but news of the projected victory triggered celebrations at the retired law professor's election campaign offices in central Tunis, as fireworks were set off outside and supporters honked vehicle horns.

Kais Saied obtained 18.4 percent of votes whereas Nabil Karoui, then in prison but just released Wednesday, garnered 15.6 percent.

The choice for voters between two quirky candidates who have never held political office has made for an unprecedented election.

Enigmatic former constitutional law professor Kais Saied spent nearly no money on his campaign and is regarded by his supporters as a humble man of principle, while his critics have attacked his conservative social views and backing by the moderate Islamist party Ennahda.

Last week Tunisians voted in legislative elections weeks and are now expected to settle on a President in this election.

The victor of the topsy-turvy election inherits a North African country struggling to create jobs, revive tourism and overcome sporadic extremist violence - but proud of its still-budding democracy.

The polling agencies questioned several thousand people in person in various constituencies on voting day.

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Saied is an expert on constitutional law who taught at the Tunis faculty of judicial and political sciences from 1999 to 2018, when he retired and went on to launch an unorthodox election campaign that saw him shun mass rallies and instead canvass door-to-door. Tunisia is the birthplace of the 2011 Arab Spring revolts.

The only thing Saied and Karoui had in common is their outsider status.

Despite the backing of Ennahdha, which won last week's parliamentary elections, he describes himself as politically neutral.

Polling stations open at 8:00 am (0700 GMT) for the runoff finale, with 12 hours of voting to decide the North African country's next leader.

During an unprecedented TV debate, Karoui promised to combat extremist violence by "attacking at its roots" and raising economic prospects in struggling provinces that are fertile recruiting grounds for the Islamic State group and other extremists.

After their televised debate Friday, they cordially shook hands - a gesture Tunisians celebrated as a sign that their democracy is on the right track.

Sunday vote which is Tunisia's second free presidential election since the 2011 Arab was held ahead, following the death of President Beji Caid Essebsi in July.

Low turnout and the rejection of established politicians and parties in both the presidential and parliamentary polls have highlighted public dissatisfaction with Tunisian politics.