Ennahdha party throws weight behind vote frontrunner

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Presidential candidate Kais Saied speaks as he attends a news conference after the announcement of the results in the first round of Tunisia's presidential election in Tunis, Tunisia, on Tuesday. Tunisia's influential party Ennahdha said Friday it will support law professor and political outsider Saied in a presidential runoff against jailed media magnate Nabil Karoui. — Reuters

TUNIS — Tunisia's influential Islamist-inspired party Ennahdha said Friday it will support law professor and political outsider Kais Saied in a presidential runoff against jailed media magnate Nabil Karoui.

The latest twist in the electoral race came a day after the North African country's longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who was ousted in 2011, died.

"Ennahdha has chosen to support the people's choice," the party's 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, and Ennahdha, a key force in parliament, followed with 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 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 seen as strongly conservative on social issues, and has defended the death penalty.

Karoui, a 56-year-old media mogul, 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 used his popular television channel Nessma to launch high-profile charity campaigns, often appearing in designer suits as he criss-crossed the country to meet with some of its poorest before his incarceration.— AFP


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