Exit polls are pointing to landslide win for a conservative law professor in an upset for the political establishment and the elites.
Mr. Kais Saied, 61, an unlikely leader for the nation’s restless youth, promised to hand more power to young people and local governments. An expert in constitutional law, he taught in the Tunis faculty of judicial and political sciences from 1999 to 2018.
Several of his former students praised Saied, in interviews with the Times of Israel, 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.
“I am so happy and proud of our democracy,” said Rania Gnaba, 32, a financial analyst who was draped in a Tunisian flag. “Saied is going to make sure the laws of the Constitution are respected. He’s going to fight against corruption.”
Saied became a household name when he became a regular political commentator on TV during the drafting of the constitution adopted in 2014.
Preliminary data showed that Saied, nicknamed “Robot Man’ for his stiff manner, obtained more than 76 percent of the vote to beat Nabil Karoui, a media mogul whose brash style and business-minded image reminded Tunisians of President Trump.
“We Tunisians are angry at the previous president and governments,” Saoussen Attia, 35, told Sudarsan Raghavan of the Washington Post. “They failed us. Today, our dinar is collapsing and corruption is everywhere. Young people like me want a Tunisia that looks like the United States or France.”
As polls closed, Tunisians filled the streets of the capital, honking their car horns, chanting Saied’s name and waving Tunisian flags. Fireworks erupted over the crowds.
Voters had chosen between two diametrically opposite candidates: Karoui, a multimillionaire TV station owner who campaigned from a prison cell, and Saied, an obscure academic who hardly campaigned and had to borrow money to register as candidate.
“I am fed up with the political system,” said Najwa Sassi, 45, an employee in a pharmaceutical lab who voted for Saied in Tunis’s upscale enclave of Les Berges du Lac. “But I never expected that we would elect a political outsider. This makes me proud of our democracy.”
Tunisia was the birthplace of the 2011 Arab Spring launched by an unemployed college graduate who publically commit suicide when he was unable to find a job. Soon after, dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was overthrown.
Voters hope the new president will uproot poverty, battle corruption, and build a better government that can provide health care, education and other basic needs.