Starkly different candidates wage contest for Tunisia’s presidency

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If he wins Sundays election, media mogul Nabil Karoui will only have to stroll up one of Tunisias most expensive streets to move from his own home into the presidential palace.


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For his opponent Kais Saied, the journey would be very different: through poor districts where the 2011 revolution flared and where the cafés are filled with unemployed young men.

The stark contrast between their neighbourhoods – Karouis opulent Carthage and Saieds earthier Mnihla – underscores the many other differences between the candidates in both their politics and temperament.

Supporters of Karoui, a self-assured businessman facing corruption charges, present Sundays run-off presidential vote as a choice between a professionally successful, secular champion of Tunisias poor and an inexperienced conservative backed by Islamists.

Backers of Saied, an awkward law professor who has barely campaigned in the race, see it as pitting a humble, principled representative of the 2011 revolution that brought democracy to the country against a glib, corrupt avatar of Tunisias unchanging moneyed elite.

Although the president has fewer powers than a prime minister the post is still Tunisias most senior directly elected official with wide political influence. The prime minister will be picked by the parliament that was elected last Sunday.

No polls have been published since before the election period, but Saied took 18.4% of votes in last months first round and Karoui 15.6%.

Both men have presented themselves as political outsiders riding a wave of public dissatisfaction with the years of economic stagnation that followed the 2011 revolution, an uprising that inspired the “Arab Spring”.

The reason they had not met on the hustings before Friday nights candidates debate is that Karoui had been in detention since August awaiting a verdict in his trial for tax evasion and money laundering, accusations he denies.

With democracy watchdogs raising concerns about the credibility of Sundays election, a court released Karoui on Wednesday evening, allowing him to leave prison before a crowd of cheering supporters.

Championing the poor

Karouis legal troubles have reinforced the perception among his critics that he is a self-serving opportunist, and among his supporters that he is the victim of political machinations by influential rivals.

He made his fortune through a communications company he set up with his brother during the reign of Tunisias autocratic former president Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, who died in exile in Saudi Arabia last month.

Recently, his unlicensed Nessma TV station has broadcast constant footage advertising Karouis philanthropy in the poorest districts of Tunisia.

Yet Karoui makes no bones about his wealth, and his formula for improving the lives of the poor involves boosting business – something that goes down well with the rich.

In the cypress-lined streets around his home, boasting foreign embassies, government palaces and ancient Roman sites, and with the Mediterranean glittering in the background, few people backed Saied.

“In the first round all the people here voted for Nabil Karoui and they will vote for him again on Sunday to keep their interests,” said Nabila Nabli, a local resident who works as governess to a French family.

Yet Karoui also has great support in some of Tunisias poorest areas. In the parliamentary elections last Sunday, his party came first in the deprived northwestern hills near the Algerian border.

When Reuters visited that area before the first round of the presidential election, many people felt utterly disconnected from politics or the elections, but many had heard of Karoui afterRead More – Source

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