- Saied appeared to win handily, according to exit polls released late Sunday by Tunisia’s Mosaique FM.
- The president to be elected on Sunday will be the country's third president since the 2011 revolution.
- The new president will face several economic challenges, including unemployment, inflation, and declining foreign investment.
More than 7 million voters were called back to the polls on Sunday for the third time in less than a month to elect a new president who faces the challenge of taking the country out of its economic crisis. Independent constitutional law professor Kais Saied and his rival, businessman and media magnate Nabil Karoui, a candidate for the “Heart of Tunisia” party, competed Sunday in the second round of the presidential elections.
Saied appeared to win handily, according to exit polls released late Sunday by Tunisia’s Mosaique FM. He was projected to win 72.5% of the vote in the second round against Karoui, according to the poll. A separate poll by the state media will be released later.
Karoui won 15.5% of the votes in the first round, while his opponent, Kais Saied, won 18.4%. Voter turnout was nearly 50%. In the first round, prominent candidates from current and former ministers and heads of government were defeated. Observers felt that Tunisian voters resorted to a “vote of punishment” against the symbols of the ruling political system because they were unable in their assessment to find solutions to the economic and social situation in crisis.
The president to be elected on Sunday will be the country’s third president since the 2011 revolution that toppled the regime of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Former President Béji Kaid Essebsi died on July 25. Early presidential elections were held on September 15, with the president elected before October 25. As stipulated in the Tunisian constitution, a new president must take office no later than 90 days after the president’s death. In parliamentary elections last week, Karoui’s Heart of Tunisia party finished second, with 38 seats.
Among the economic challenges awaiting the new president and the new government alike are fighting unemployment, which is about 15% nationally and 29.7% among university and college graduates. Encouraging foreign investment that has declined since the fall of the Ben Ali regime will also be crucial.
The new president will also face the problem of inflation, which exceeded 7.5% in 2018, and has gone up each of the last three years: 6.4% in 2017, 4.2% in 2016. This has led to higher prices and reduced purchasing power of citizens, especially the middle and lower classes.
The problem of brain drain abroad is also an important challenge for the new president and the government that will emerge from the legislative elections. They are required to provide appropriate economic and social conditions for this social group, such as simplifying investment processes and eliminating bureaucracy, in addition to the integration of university graduates in the labor market and the economic fabric of the country.
The new authorities are also expected to draw up a new plan to develop the tourism sector, which has been relatively stagnant in recent years. According to sector minister Roni Trabelsi, the number of tourists visiting Tunisia has dropped from 1.4 million in 2008 to 800,000 in 2018, although the sector employs half a million workers directly and 1.2 million indirectly, accounts for 14 percent of income per year.