Jailed Tunisian media magnate optimistic about winning presidency

AP , Sunday 22 Sep 2019

 Nabil Karoui
Nabil Karoui, businessman and owner of the private channel Nessma TV, submits his candidacy for the presidential election in Tunis, Tunisia, August 2, 2019. (Photo: Reuters)

Jailed Tunisian media magnate Nabil Karoui said he's ``reasonably optimistic'' about winning Tunisia's presidential runoff, where he is facing independent law professor Kais Saied.

They beat out two dozen other candidates in the first-round of voting on Sept. 15. No date has been set yet for the presidential runoff in the North African nation but Tunisia's electoral body says it will take place by Oct. 13.

The 56-year-old Karoui, co-owner of private TV station Nessma TV, was jailed Aug. 23 pending an investigation into alleged money laundering and tax evasion charges.

He has said he's the victim of a smear campaign. He was allowed to remain in the race because he has not been convicted but he said he felt being in jail cost him many votes.

The Associated Press sent questions to his lawyer, Kamel Ben Messaoud, who responded Saturday night with Karoui's comments. In those written answers, Karoui said ``of course we have a chance, because it's a second round and both candidates will restart from scratch.''

Karoui said he celebrated his qualification for the runoff last week with his cellmates.

Karoui, who has positioned himself as an advocate for the poor, said he wants to be released to be able to campaign on an equal footing with his adversary. He denounced a ``serious denial of justice and democracy'' and said it is ``against the will'' of the people who voted for him.

Considered very conservative, the 61-year-old Saied, who is not affiliated with any political party, emerged as the outsider of the vote.

``I'm not in competition or in a race with anyone,'' Saied told The Associated Press earlier this week. ``(Tunisians) are free to choose who they want.''

The election was called early after the death in office in July of President Beji Caid Essebsi. It is Tunisia's second democratic presidential election since the 2011 revolution that toppled autocratic leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, unleashing the Arab Spring uprisings across the region.

Ben Ali died Thursday at age 83 in Saudi Arabia.

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