The conservative candidate Kaïs Saïed, who led the first round of the Tunisian presidential election with 18.4% of the vote, will face Sunday the businessman Nabil Karoui, who had collected 15.6% of the vote. Two candidates have opposite perspectives on everything.
It is a race against the clock that is played for Nabil Karoui. Released from prison on Wednesday on the decision of the Court of Cassation, the businessman jailed since August on charges of money laundering and tax evasion went on the offensive before the second round of the presidential election, which will take place on Sunday. The program, Friday, October 10: two meetings in the day, followed in the evening of a debate that will oppose his rival, Kaïs Saïed, arrived at the head of the first round.
Since then, Nabil Karoui has been trying to regain control of the campaign and is calling for the vote to be postponed until the following week. “So that Tunisians can listen to me as a candidate,” he argued, “so that they can review my program and compare me to my opponent.”
The two finalists in the Tunisian presidential election have anti-establishment profiles, but their style could not be any different.
Karoui, the modernist liberal
On the one hand, 56-year-old Nabil Karoui is still dashing to the point of being regularly compared in the media to Silvio Berlusconi. The commercial and former Colgate-Palmolive merchant based his wealth on his media empire and philanthropic activity. After the 2011 uprising, the Nessma channel he founded went from entertainment programming to becoming one of the country’s largest private broadcasters. What gives him great visibility: for three years, he hosts a program of charity works and distributes appliances to families in need.
At the beginning of 2019, the advertiser turned to politics and presented himself as a “modernist liberal”. “My program is the opening of the economy with the necessary reforms to attract foreign investment,” he said.
The candidate wants to address the modest classes he met while crisscrossing the country before being imprisoned. “Direct contact with people really touched me,” he told AFP through his lawyer.
Nabil Karoui, whose party Qalb Tounes (Heart of Tunisia) came in second place in the legislative elections last Sunday, is recognized as a wise politician. “The man knows what he’s doing, he has seen that through television and philanthropy, he can enter every marginalized home,” said Alaa Talbi, president of the Tunisian Forum of Economic and Social Rights.
But he is also a controversial figure: he has faced multiple legal battles in recent years. Even today he is still charged with tax evasion and money laundering. His assets have been frozen and a travel ban imposed.
During his detention, his wife, Salwa Smaoui, took a leave to campaign on his behalf. An international lobbying company would also work for him. The US Department of Justice has released a copy of a $ 1 million contract with Canada-based Dickens and Madison to promote its bid abroad.
The one-year contract, dated August 19, far exceeds the limits of campaign spending in Tunisia. His party denied any connection to the contract, claiming that its authors sought to “tarnish its reputation and influence voters.”
Saeed, the anti-system conservative
The anti-system conservative, 61, appears as a neophyte in politics. His inexpressive behavior has earned him the nickname “Robocop”. Camped in an austere style, the constitutional law expert led a low-cost campaign, favoring door-to-door rather than mass rallies. “I am an independent candidate, I do not represent any of the parties,” he said on Shems FM radio. “I’m doing my campaign on my own, and I refuse any help.” The lawyer, unknown to the general public until recently, arrived at the top of the first round with 18.4% of the vote.
The support he received was fueled by a widespread rejection by voters of the post-Arab political establishment. According to the comparison of the Observatory for the defense of the right to the difference, which classified the candidates according to their positions on individual liberties, it is one of the most conservative: against the abolition of the death penalty and against the repeal of the laws punishing homosexuality and indecent assault, which has served to condemn unmarried couples kissing in the street.
“End the corruption”
Among his political commitments is a radical decentralization of power and the creation of a new network of elected local councils led by civil servants who would be sidelined if they abused their power. In an online video, he defends his vision as a roadmap to “ensure that the will of the people reaches the highest levels of centralized government and end corruption.”
He also made a clear stand against inheritance equality, a sensitive issue because it touches on a principle dictated by the Koran.
Kaïs Saïed displays a simple and unpretentious way of life, just like the anti-corruption message he seeks to spread: his office is housed in a ruined apartment in the heart of the capital.
The seven million voters go to the polls Sunday for the third time in a month, after polls expressed a headache of the political class, which struggles to meet the social expectations of the population, nine years after the revolution.