Official results in Tunisia’s presidential election confirmed Tuesday a duel in the second round between law professor Kais Saied and imprisoned media mogul Nabil Karoui.
The electoral commission announced Tuesday that the two outsider candidates came out on top in the first round of voting Sunday, Saied with 18.40 percent of the vote and Karoui with 15.58 percent.
The date for the run-off hasn’t yet been announced.
Neither candidate has ever held political office. They beat out two former prime ministers and the candidate from moderate Islamist party Ennahdha, the biggest force in Tunisia’s parliament.
Karoui’s lawyers are seeking his release from jail before the run-off. Accused of tax evasion and money laundering, he says he’s the victim of a smear campaign.
The two candidates although 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 run-up 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.
The electoral commission, known as the Independent High Authority for Elections or ISIE, also said it would investigate alleged electoral violations – including campaigning on behalf of Karoui by Nessma TV, a station 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 the ISIE.