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Outsider, Jailed Tycoon claim 1st Round Wins in Tunisia Polls

Outsider, Jailed Tycoon claim 1st Round Wins in Tunisia Polls

Monday, 16 September, 2019 - 06:00
A man reads his ballot paper at a polling station during presidential election in Tunis, Tunisia, September 15, 2019. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

Two anti-establishment candidates in Tunisia's divisive presidential election claimed Sunday to have won through to a runoff, hours after polling closed.


In a sign of voter apathy, especially among the young, turnout was reported by the elections commission (ISIE) to be 45 percent, down from 64 percent recorded in a first round in 2014.


Kais Saied, a 61-year-old law professor and expert on constitutional affairs who ran as an independent, claimed to be in pole position.


He finished "first in the first round", he said, citing exit polls ahead of preliminary results expected to be announced on Tuesday.


There was also an upbeat atmosphere at the party headquarters of jailed media mogul Nabil Karoui, behind bars due to a money laundering probe, as hundreds of supporters celebrated after he also claimed to have reached the second round.


His wife Salwa said his legal team is pushing for his release as soon as Monday. She read a letter he wrote from jail in which he said the apparent results reflected "the Tunisian people's wish to see change, to say no to injustice, no to poverty, no to marginalization and yes to a fair state."


Other prominent candidates in the first round included Abdelfattah Mourou, heading a first-time bid for Ennahdha party, and Prime Minister Youssef Chahed.


Ennahdha insisted it would wait for the official results. 


"Only the elections board gives the results," said Ennahdha MP and Mourou's campaign director, Samir Dilou. 


"I do not doubt the work of the polling institutes, (but) it is not their role to impose a certain truth on the public," he told reporters.


"Young people of Tunisia, you still have an hour to vote!" ISIE head Nabil Baffoun had urged before the close of Sunday's vote.


"We must leave our homes and vote -- it's a right that we gained from the 2011 revolution which cost lives," Baffoun added, visibly disappointed by the turnout.


However, he later said that the turnout of 45 percent was "an acceptable level". 


The election had been brought forward by the death in July of President Beji Caid Essebsi, whose widow also passed away on Sunday morning.


The date of a second and final round between the top two candidates has not been announced, but it must be held by October 23 at the latest and may even take place on the same day as legislative polls, October 6.


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