Tunisian voters appear to have up-ended their nation’s politics in Sunday’s presidential election, rejecting established leaders for two outsiders with 39% of votes counted.
Kais Saied, a conservative law professor, and Nabil Karoui, a media magnate held in detention since last month, have an apparently solid lead over a moderate Islamist candidate and seem set to advance to a runoff vote next month.
Eight years after Tunisians staged the first of the Arab Spring revolutions to overthrow autocratic rule, Sunday’s vote represents a sharp rebuke of democratically elected governments that struggled to improve living standards or end graft.
“He will fight corruption and establish a just state and continue the process of the revolution,” said fishmonger and Saied voter Noureddine el-Arabi, proudly showing the inky forefinger that proved he had voted.
Karoui has for years used his Nessma television station and the charity he founded after his son died to present himself as a champion of the poor and a scourge of government, while his critics describe him as an ambitious, unscrupulous, populist.
He denies all claims of wrongdoing against him, including old tax evasion and money laundering charges which kept him in jail on election day, calling them an undemocratic plot.