Only three days ago, campaigns for the run-off presidential elections in Tunisia were near non-existent given that presidential candidate Nabil Karoui was imprisoned.
Competing candidate Kais Saied had refused to hold election campaigns so as to level the playing field. Saied, an independent candidate and law professor, took 18.4% of the vote with Karoui, 56, receiving 15.6% of votes cast.
Freeing Karoui has revived the national election scene, some political analysts point out. A Tunis appeals court had annulled the detention order for Karoui, who was arrested on charges of money laundering and tax fraud.
In his first presser after being released, Karoui denied making any concessions with the country’s politicians.
“The judiciary freed me, and I did not commit concessions to any party. Neither Ennahda nor the government of Youssef Chahed”, Karoui said, thanking the Tunisian justice system for freeing him despite mounting political pressure.
Karoui, a media mogul, was detained in August before the first round of the election and has spent the entire campaign period in prison pending a verdict in his trial for money laundering and tax evasion, which he denies.
National television is expected to hold a debate that will feature both Karoui and Saied.
Last week, interim president Mohamed Ennaceur said Karoui's detention and inability to campaign had damaged the credibility of the election. Election watchdogs had also called for his release saying there could be no fair vote if he was detained.
Tunisia's electoral commission has itself warned that Karoui could appeal against the result if he loses as he has been denied equal opportunity to communicate with voters, and that the result could be annulled.
“His release saved our transition and the situation at the last moment ... We were in a very difficult moment in Tunisia which really threatened Tunisian democracy,” Karoui's spokesman Hatem Mliki said.