Presidential election in Tunisia: Kais Said, the austere professor


The first round of the presidential election, whose results were announced on Tuesday by the body responsible for elections, made two happy and one dead. Kaïs Saïed and Nabil Karoui qualified for the second round with respectively 18.4% and 15.6%. The dead is the Tunisian "system". "This is a very nice lesson for the political class, very arrogant, far from people," summarized France 24 feminist MP Bochra Belhadj. The Islamist party Ennahda, majority in the Assembly, does not escape this reprobation, its candidate Abdelfattah Mourou being clearly distanced in third position with 12.9%.

"All confused, the eight parties from the same movement as that of the late President Beji Caid Essebsi do little more than Kaïs Saïed," notes a Tunisian observer. It should also be noted the low participation (49% of the 7 million registered on a total electoral body of 8.5 million). Everything opposes the two finalists but they have in common to have clearly presented themselves as antisystem candidates and to have cultivated, in styles certainly very different, a real proximity with Tunisians.

At 61, Kaïs Saïed, who seems in a good position to sit in the presidential chair in a fortnight, is a constitutional law professor quite gray and stiff as justice. Married to a judge president of court in the court of first instance of Tunis. Tunisians discovered his face after the 2011 revolution when he frequently appeared on television sets to dissect the constitutional changes of the "democratic transition".

Robocop as nickname

Speaking classical Arabic with a fairly syncopated phrasing that earned him the nickname of Robocop, Saeed traveled extensively across the country long before the presidential campaign to lecture across the country. His position away from power made him one of the popular personalities, which led him to submit his candidacy without the support of any party. Profoundly conservative – he is against gender equality in inheritance, for the death penalty that has been suspended in Tunisia since 1991 and against the decriminalization of homosexuality – he has bitten into the traditional electorate of Ennahda among the poor strata of Tunisians in the interior.

The many graduates of the upper class from popular backgrounds and who swell the flow of unemployed have also been seduced by his appearance of authority and his speech to put the country back to work. His main proposal is to rebuild the political system by starting from the grassroots and electing deputies by local elected officials. "The Tunisian state has failed to ensure the integration of young people into society, he confided before the first round. This campaign is not traditional and is part of the new stage that Tunisia is experiencing.

Nabil Karoui, the other qualified for the presidential final, has also plowed the deep country. At the head of the Khalil Tounès Foundation since the accidental death of his son Khalil in 2016, he has popularized for more than two years spectacular charitable operations for the poor. An advertising campaigner and media man, he has unscrupulously used his television channel Nessma, one of the first for the audience in Tunisia, to increase his popularity.

Complaint for money laundering and tax evasion

A friend of former president Essebsi, with whom he founded the Nidaa Tounès party, Karoui was the subject in 2017 of a complaint for money laundering and tax evasion filed by the Tunisian branch of Transparency International. It is by appropriately exhuming this already old file that the government has incited justice to challenge the tycoon ten days before the first round of the presidential election.

This impossibility of physically campaigning on the ground has undoubtedly largely undermined the electoral potential of Karoui. Rumors of invalidation ran about him before the president of the ISIE (the supervisory body) finally declared: "The violations were not decisive, we must respect the choice of voters. "

Despite his aura, Kaïs Saïed has the advantage for traditional political parties to have no party. It will probably not present candidates for legislative scheduled on October 6. Endowed with limited powers which concern Defense, Foreign Affairs and a power of legislative initiative, the Tunisian president is above all a moral authority placed above the State. A task that, in the eyes of Tunisians, will be perfect for the very austere teacher.


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