Law Professor Over Media Magnate As President: Tunisia Set For Change?

tunisia presidential election

Retired law professor Kais Saied won presidential elections in Tunisia with over 72 percent of popular votes. On October 13, Tunisians went massively to vote to this little-known person with a participation rate of over 55 percent contrary to the first round where the electoral commission was imploring the public to get out and vote right up to the final hour of polling.

Holder of a Master Degree of Constitutional Law, Kais Saied is a modest professor who spent all his career teaching courses to undergraduate students in most of Tunisian Law Schools. He was well known for his integrity, cleanness and honesty.

In this second round of polling, he was facing a successful media magnate, a multimillionaire TV station owner who has been just temporarily released from jail and still facing charges of tax evasion and money laundering but extremely popular among low-income classes. He portrayed himself as an advocate of the poor and for those neglected by the establishment. His style and his image lead us to a comparison to President Trump and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi with whom he has close ties and they are even partners in the TV station.
Saied, who had to borrow money to register as a candidate won without a budget facing a rival with unlimited resources, media propaganda and support of foreign powers. He won without a clear program, without seriously campaigning and without a political party.

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Tunisians seem to be fed up with political parties from all the backgrounds (right, left, conservatives, liberals,) who were unable to gather people and lack of concrete results. After eight years of the Jasmin Revolution, Kais Saied reconciled Tunisians with the Revolution that aims to promote a message of social change for a new Tunisia and reviving the hope of justice and dignity that followed the Arab Spring in 2011. He walked across Tunisia, meeting people in the cafes, talking to youth while his rivals spent millions in huge popular gatherings and TV shows. He didn’t give any electoral promises. He said he is going to make sure that the laws of the constitution are respected and fight against corruption.

Tunisians seem to be fed up with political parties from all the backgrounds (right, left, conservatives, liberals,) who were unable to gather people and lack of concrete results.

The conclusion is that Tunisians chose a person similar to them, a middle-class, honest, modest without any particular ambition who spent all his career in the same level without any professional promotion, someone to whom they identify themselves. Voting Kais Saied is also choosing integrity and honesty instead of corruption and nepotism. Saied is a father of three children, married to a modern, high-educated woman, a judge and the president of the Primary Court in Tunis.

Despite my disagreement with his visions and conservative values, I’m really proud of this maturity that educated Tunisians achieved. They broke a traditional money-driven political system and avoid/overthrow a candidate representing a threat to our nascent democracy. They no longer want a political elite graduated from well-known schools with high diplomas or strong historic political backgrounds promoting identity debates, they want leaders like them speaking their language and giving them hope for social justice and fair opportunities

I hope that the new generation of politicians got the message and build on that before any thought to a new political initiative.

Image credit: Anadolu Agency

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Wiem Zarrouk is a Senior Advisor to the Minister of Development, Investment and International Cooperation in Tunisia, responsible for Business Environment reforms and International Cooperation programs for development projects. Zarrouk is also a member of ATUGE board, a leading Tunisian Diaspora organization. Zarrouk holds an Engineering Masters Degree from the “Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Ingénieurs de Caen” in France. She is also a STANFORD Draper Hills Fellow graduated in 2019. The views expressed are the author’s own.