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.

Turkish police arrest journalist Altan a week after his release

Updated 13 November 2019

Turkish police arrest journalist Altan a week after his release

  • Altan and the others deny the charges against them
  • On Tuesday a higher court overruled the decision to release Altan, ordering his arrest on grounds that there was a risk of him fleeing

ISTANBUL: Turkish police detained prominent journalist and author Ahmet Altan late on Tuesday, a week after he was released from prison in his retrial on coup-related charges, Istanbul police said.

Before his release last Monday, the 69-year-old had been in jail since his arrest in 2016, two months after an attempted coup which Ankara says was orchestrated by the network of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen.

The journalist’s case has drawn criticism from human rights groups and Turkey’s Western allies. They are concerned by the scale of a post-coup crackdown against suspected Gulen supporters under President Tayyip Erdogan.

Altan smiled and waved as he was driven away by counter-terror squad police officers after being taken from his home in Istanbul, video and photos published by Turkish media showed.

He was taken to Istanbul police headquarters after a hospital check-up, state-owned Anadolu news agency reported.

Altan, his brother and other journalists were previously sentenced to life in jail for aiding Gulen’s network. Last week he was convicted again in a retrial, but released from jail given the time served.

Altan and the others deny the charges against them.

On Tuesday a higher court overruled the decision to release Altan, ordering his arrest on grounds that there was a risk of him fleeing, Anadolu reported.

Under last week’s verdict, Altan was sentenced to 10 years and six months in jail. Turkey’s high court had overruled the previous life sentences against him in July, sending the file back for re-trial.

Erdogan’s government has jailed more than 77,000 people pending trial since the failed putsch. Widespread arrests are still routine in a crackdown critics say demonstrates growing autocracy in Turkey.

Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, and his followers deny any involvement in the coup. Turkey has repeatedly called on the United States to extradite the cleric.