TUNIS: Tunisia’s influential Islamist-inspired party Ennahda said on Friday it will support law professor and political outsider Kais Saied in a presidential runoff against jailed media magnate Nabil Karoui.
“Ennahda has chosen to support the people’s choice,” party spokesman Imed Khemiri told AFP after last Sunday’s first round of polling in which Saied finished ahead with 18.4 percent of the vote.
The surprise result of the election, contested by more than 20 candidates, thrust to the fore both Saied and Karoui, likewise from outside the world of traditional Tunisian politics.
Karoui came second with 15.6 percent, said the electoral commission ISIE, while Ennahda, a main force in Parliament, scored 12.9 percent with its first-ever candidate to run for the presidency, Abdelfattah Mourou.
The result was a major upset for Tunisia’s political establishment, in place since the fall of late leader Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali eight years ago after mass protests that sparked the Arab Spring revolts.
Saied, a fiercely independent academic aged 61, advocates a radical decentralization of power, with local democracy and the ability to remove elected officials from office during their mandates.
He is also perceived as very conservative on social issues, and has defended the death penalty, criminalization of homosexuality and a sexual assault law that punishes unmarried couples who engage in public displays of affection.
Karoui, a 56-year-old media magnate, has been held in prison since Aug. 23 under investigation for alleged money laundering.
He remains eligible to run as long as any conviction does not also specifically deprive him of his civil rights, according to ISIE.
Karoui has in recent years used his popular television channel Nessma to launch high-profile charity campaigns, often appearing in designer suits as he criss-crosses the country to meet with some of its poorest.