Two political outsiders said they believed they had advanced to the second round of Tunisia’s presidential election on Sunday, citing exit polls, though no official results have been announced.
A representative for detained media magnate Nabil Karoui said he had scored “an impressive win”, while conservative law professor Kais Saied, who was largely unknown before the election, said his performance marked “a new revolution”, Reuters reported.
If confirmed, their success on Sunday in a vote marked by low turnout would be a sharp rebuke to Tunisia’s established political powers after years of economic frustration. Only 45% of registered voters took part, compared to 63% in 2014, official figures showed.
However, the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, a partner in recent coalition governments, said its count, to be announced at a news conference later, was different to that released in exit polls.
A party official, speaking anonymously to Reuters said the race was between Karoui, Saied and the Ennahda candidate Abdelfatah Mourou.
Tunisia’s prime minister, two former prime ministers, a former president and the defence minister were also among the 26 candidates on the ballot.
“This is an impressive win that shows Tunisians want to cut the old system and want to see a leader who is like them… it is a lesson for the rulers,” said Samira Chaouachi, an official in Karoui’s party.
A court on Friday ruled that he must stay in detention after his arrest last month on three-year-old charges brought by a transparency watchdog for tax evasion and money laundering.
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According to Reuters, he denies wrongdoing and his supporters say the timing of his arrest showed the establishment was trying to silence him. His critics accuse him of illicitly using his unlicensed television station and his charity as campaign tools.
Saied, a conservative constitutional law professor, is also a political newcomer. In the televised debates shown over consecutive nights last week, he expressed support for the death penalty and opposition to equal inheritance rights between men and women.
With no real political machine or publicity campaign, Saied has appealed to Tunisians in television appearances speaking in a highly correct form of Arabic devoid of the colloquial expressions used by most of his compatriots.
The simplicity of his campaign may also have strengthened his credentials as a crusader against the corruption which many Tunisians believe has bedevilled their transition to democracy.