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People react after exit poll results were announced in a second round runoff of the presidential election in Tunis, Tunisia October 13, 2019. Image Credit: REUTERS

Tunis: Thousands of supporters of presidential candidate Kais Saied thronged the grand boulevards of central Tunis in celebration late on Sunday after two exit polls said he was elected by a landslide.

Official results will not be published until Monday and Saied’s opponent, the media mogul Nabil Karoui, has left the door open to an appeal.

Sunday’s vote was only Tunisia’s second free presidential election and came after years of economic frustrations that overshadowed the legacy of the 2011 revolution which threw out autocratic rule and inspired the “Arab spring”.

What was Saied’s appeal?

Saied, a retired law professor backed by both Islamists and leftists, spent barely any money on an election campaign that has seized the imagination of voters with its promise to bring back the values of the 2011 uprising.

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Said reacts after exit poll results announced. Image Credit: Reuters

“We need to renew confidence between the people and the rulers,” Saied said in televised comments after two separate exit polls gave him more than 70% of the vote.

Crowds of Saied supporters began gathering on the tree-lined Habib Bourguiba Avenue in central Tunis soon after polls closed, cheering slogans from the 2011 revolution in anticipation of him winning.

Where in 2011 they gathered to chant “the people want the fall of the regime”, on Sunday night they chanted “the people want a strong Saied”, holding candles and setting off fireworks Elsewhere in the city centre, cars drove around the streets, honking their horns in celebration.

“We are happy because this victory returned the spirit of the revolution,” said one of Saied’s supporters there, who gave only his first name Nejib.

With voter turnout higher than in other recent elections in Tunisia, Sunday’s poll appears to have reversed a recent trend of disillusionment with politics.

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Voters line up to cast their ballot. Image Credit: Reuters

The electoral commission said after polls closed that turnout would be more than 60%. In the first round of the presidential election, which put Saied and Karoui through to the runoff above 24 other candidates, turnout was only 45%.

At a polling station in the working class Ettadamon district on Sunday, a man stood haranguing passersby, urging them to vote against Karoui, until a policeman asked him to quieten down.

Inside, Hanan Madouri, a 25-year-old call centre worker in a big straw hat, voted for Saied, citing the corruption trial hanging over Karoui. “I want to vote for a correct, serious person,” she said.

How powerful is the president?

The prime minister, chosen by parliament, has more direct powers than the president, but since he is the most senior elected official in Tunisia, he shoulders much of the public praise or blame for the state of the country.

What challenges must the government confront?

All recent governments have been bedevilled by economic ills: unemployment of 15%, inflation of 6.8%, high public debt, a powerful union that opposes economic reforms and foreign lenders who demand them.

How is the parliament shaping up?

If he is confirmed as president, Saied will face a difficult moment in Tunisian political history.

File image of Tunisia's parliament Image Credit: EPA

The parliament elected last week is deeply fractured and though the moderate Islamist Ennahda party that took most seats backed him on Sunday after its own candidate was beaten in the first round, it may struggle to build a ruling coalition.

What is Saied's agenda?

In a speech to his supporters, Saied layed out his principle agenda for the country.

1- To be an inclusive president for all Tunisians.

2-To apply the law equally.

3-To grapple with economic and social challenges in the country.

4- To honour Tunisia's international obligations.

5- To advocate "fair causes" primarily the Palestinian cause.

6- If his victory is confirmed, his first visit as president would be to Algeria, he said.