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Constitutional law professor wins Tunisian elections in outsider runoff

Kaïs Saïed, a former constitutional law professor, has won the election for president of Tunisia, receiving 73 percent of the vote in the Oct 13. runoff elections.

Oct 26, 2019

Kaïs Saïed, a former constitutional law professor, was elected president of Tunisia, after receiving 73 percent of the vote in the runoff elections that took place on Oct. 13. This is the third time that Tunisia has held fair democratic elections in its political history and the results will be instrumental in shaping the future of its still young democracy.
The election held on Oct. 13 was a fierce competition between Kaïs Saïed, a former professor of constitutional law; and Nabil Karoui, a Tunisian businessman and owner of the prominent Tunisian television network Nessma TV. One notable event that occurred during the election process was Karoui’s 48-day detainment for charges of money laundering and tax fraud, from which he was released on Oct. 9. He still awaits trial.
Monica Marks, assistant professor of Arab Crossroads and Political Science at NYU Abu Dhabi, commented on what makes these elections stand out: “One of the really special things about this election was that youth turnout reversed, it had been declining ... but youth turnout was especially high, because this candidate, Kaïs Saïed, he got his start not as a traditional big-money candidate from the political establishment.” Marks continued, “He wasn’t an establishment elite, he was a constitutional law professor who appeared to have no ambitions for high political office.”
Another notable aspect of the elections was that both of the top candidates did not represent traditional political parties, demonstrating an increasing shift in the political sentiments of the Tunisian public, who have become disillusioned with the bureaucracy, which the government is associated with.
“A lot of young people were especially jaded because they were so idealistic about the revolution, but then they still couldn’t find a job after they graduated [from] university or they still saw the same old corruption in their hometown, things seemed to operate the same way,” said Marks.
Karoui has faced criticism for his involvement with propaganda during the Ben Ali regime, and many have expressed their fears that his election would be a step towards an autocratic government.
“One thing that it seemed that almost everyone agreed with across the ideological spectrum was that Karoui needed not to win,” Marks offered as an explanation for the resistance with which Karoui was met.
Ultimately, choosing to elect Saïed could be said to be a statement made by the Tunisian population about what it values moving forward as a nation.
Marks summarized the impact of Saïed’s victory: “He won with a really strong mandate … it will be interesting to see what he does with it.”
While we wait to see how Saïed embraces his role as president, the future of Tunisia is still being written. The entire world is watching Tunisia, as the country presents an experiment in democracy for the region.
Marks concluded with a positive outlook on the nation’s progress since the Arab Spring uprisings: “Looking at it from a regional perspective, looking at Tunisia from Abu Dhabi, it’s remarkable what they’ve achieved.”
Matthew Gubbins is Deputy News Editor. Email him at
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