Initial exit polls give Kais Saied landslide win in Tunisian election

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An election official empties a ballot box after polls closed during a second round runoff of a presidential election in Tunis, Tunisia October 13, 2019. (Reuters)
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Salwa Bousnina, a director at a poling station, receives the closed ballot boxes and election papers in Tunis' Ariana district on October 12, 2019, a day before the second round of the Presidential election. (AFP)
Updated 13 October 2019

Initial exit polls give Kais Saied landslide win in Tunisian election

  • One of the candidates, Nabil Karoui, was released from detention on Wednesday
  • The other candidate, Kais Saied, is regarded by his supporters as a humble man of principles

TUNIS: Political newcomer Kais Saied, who won a landslide victory Sunday in Tunisia's presidential election runoff, is a conservative academic whose rigid manner has earned him the nickname "Robocop".
According to exit polls, Saied delivered a stunning defeat to rival upstart Nabil Karoui, taking almost 77 percent of the vote, according to Wataniya television, quoting exit polls by Sigma Conseil.
The anti-establishment Saied is seen as uptight and unwavering, but beneath his austere style is a commitment to socially conservative views and to decentralising Tunisia's political system.
He has defended the death penalty, criminalisation of homosexuality and a sexual assault law that punishes unmarried couples who engage in public displays of affection.
Born in Tunis on February 22, 1958 into a middle-class family, Saied is an expert on constitutional law who taught at the Tunis faculty of judicial and political sciences from 1999 to 2018.
He retired last year, and launched an unorthodox election campaign that saw him shun mass rallies and focus instead on door-to-door canvassing for votes.
Some of his supporters still address him as "professor" -- even though he has few published works and never earned a PhD.
He has two daughters and a son. His wife, a judge, has remained behind the scenes through much of his campaign.
Saied has been nicknamed "Robocop" because of his rigid self-presentation and speech and posture and expressionless demeanour.
But several of his former students have praised Saied, saying that beneath his tough exterior is a devoted teacher.
"He could spend hours outside class time explaining a lesson or helping us understand why we'd received a certain grade on an exam," one of his students tweeted.
He was "a serious teacher, sometimes theatrical, but always available and ready to listen", said Nessim Ben Gharbia, a journalist who took a course with Saied from September 2011 to June 2012.
Among his supporters are activists he met during the 2011 protests that raged following the ouster of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, demanding a complete overhaul of the political system.
Saied became a household name when he became a regular political commentator on TV during the drafting of the constitution adopted in 2014.
Among his policy pledges are a radical decentralisation of power, along with the creation of a new network of elected local councils led by officials who would face the sack if they abuse their power.
In an online video, he is seen defending his vision as a roadmap to ensure "that the will of the people reaches all the way up through the highest ranks of the central government, and to put an end to corruption".
The support he has built has been buoyed by a broad rejection among voters of the post-Arab Spring political establishment.
While Tunisia has succeeded in curbing jihadist attacks that rocked the key tourist sector in 2015, its economy remains hampered by austere International Monetary Fund-backed reforms.
In his own no-frills life, Saied appears to embody the anti-corruption message he seeks to spread: he lives in a middle-class neighbourhood in Tunis and his office is housed in a run-down flat in the heart of the capital.
And while he makes no secret of his conservative views, he says he would respect the social freedoms enshrined in law in recent years that civil society groups have hailed as victories.
"We will not backpedal on the rights we have gained in terms of our freedoms, in terms of women's rights," Saied has said.
Yet he rejects a bid to overhaul Tunisia's inheritance law -- which remains based on Islamic law, meaning that women inherit half of their male siblings' part.
But experts refute that he is an Islamist.
"He is indeed an ultra-conservative, but he is no Islamist. He does not make his personal convictions his priorities," constitutional law expert and Saied's former teacher Iyadh Ben Achour told French newspaper La Croix in a recent interview.


Israeli PM: Palestinians in Jordan Valley won’t be citizens

Updated 28 May 2020

Israeli PM: Palestinians in Jordan Valley won’t be citizens

  • Netanyahu has vowed to press ahead with plans to annex the Jordan Valley

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday that Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley will remain in what he described as an “enclave” after Israel annexes the territory and will not be granted Israeli citizenship.
Netanyahu has vowed to press ahead with plans to annex the Jordan Valley and Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, in line with President Donald Trump’s Middle East plan, a process that could begin as early as July 1.
The annexation of the Jordan Valley and the far-flung settlements would make it virtually impossible to create a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel, which is still widely seen as the only way to resolve the decades-old conflict.
In an interview with the Israel Hayom newspaper, Netanyahu said Palestinians in the Jordan Valley, including residents of the city of Jericho, would remain under limited Palestinian self-rule, with Israel having overall security control.
“They will remain a Palestinian enclave,” he said. “You’re not annexing Jericho. There’s a cluster or two. You don’t need to apply sovereignty over them. They will remain Palestinian subjects, if you will. But security control also applies to these places.”
Palestinians in the West Bank have lived under Israeli military rule since the 1967 war, when Israel captured the territory, along with east Jerusalem and Gaza. The Palestinians want all three territories to form their future state.
The Trump plan would grant the Palestinians limited statehood over scattered enclaves surrounded by Israel if they meet a long list of conditions. Israel has embraced the plan, while the Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the West Bank, has angrily rejected it and cut ties with the US and Israel.
Netanyahu said that if the Palestinians accept all the conditions in the plan, including Israel maintaining overall security control, “then they will have an entity of their own that President Trump defines as a state.”
Under a coalition agreement reached last month, Netanyahu can bring his annexation plans before the government as early as July 1.
The Palestinian Authority has said it is no longer bound by any agreements signed with Israel and the US, and says it has cut off security coordination with Israel. Neighboring Jordan, a close Western ally and one of only two Arab states to have made peace with Israel, has warned of a “massive conflict” if Israel proceeds with annexation.