Conservative academic Kais Saied, a political outsider, was headed for a landslide victory Sunday in Tunisia’s presidential runoff, sweeping aside his rival, media magnate Nabil Karoui, exit polls said.
In a contest that reflected Tunisia’s shifting post-revolution political landscape, Saied, an independent, scooped 72.5 percent of the vote according to the Emrhold exit poll, and 76.9 percent in the Sigma one — over 40 points ahead of Karoui.
Thousands of people took to the streets of the capital Tunis to celebrate Saied’s victory, honking horns and singing the national anthem.
“It’s a historic day: Tunisia is reaping the fruits of the revolution,” said Boussairi Abidi, a 39-year-old mechanic. “Kais Saied is going to put an end to corruption, he will be a fair president.”
The official results are expected Monday.
In his first reaction, Saied thanked the country’s young people “for turning a new page,” and vowed to try to build “a new Tunisia”.
Around 90 percent of 18 to 25-year-olds voted for Saied, according to estimates by the Sigma polling institute, compared with 49.2 percent of voters over 60.
“Kais Saied, voice of the people,” a gathered crowd chanted. “Long live Tunisia!”
“We are very happy. Tunisia has an honest man at the helm now. The difference between the two candidates was the work he has been doing,” said Mustafa El Ghali, a family member.
The runoff was contested by two political newcomers — pitting Saied, nicknamed “Robocop,” against businessman, Karoui, who is dubbed Tunisia’s “Berlusconi”.
They trounced the old guard in a September 15 first round, highlighting voter anger over a stagnant economy, joblessness and poor public services in the cradle of the Arab Spring.
Adding controversy and suspense to the contest, Karoui only walked free on Wednesday, having spent more than a month behind bars on suspicion of money-laundering.
The poll, Tunisia’s second free presidential elections since its 2011 revolt, followed the death of president Beji Caid Essebsi in July. Turnout was higher than in the first round, and estimated at around 57 percent.