Tunisia’s Post Arab Spring Election: Winning Candidate's In Jail..

Tunisia’s young democracy has endured many shocks since it emerged from the Arab Spring protests of 2011. But its presidential runoff this month may pose a new and embarrassing question: What happens if the winner is in jail?

In the first round of presidential voting last month, all the major-party candidates were knocked out, leaving two contenders: Kais Saied, a previously obscure law professor who claimed 18.4 percent of the vote as an anti-corruption independent, and Nabil Karoui, a businessman and co-owner of a popular TV network, who won 15.6 percent.

Mr. Karoui, shown in his office this summer, has repeatedly sought a temporary release from jail but been denied.

Several polls before Sunday’s parliamentary elections showed Mr. Karoui’s new Qalb Tounes (Heart of Tunisia) party to be ahead. But with the presidential runoff a week away, Mr. Karoui is behind bars, awaiting trial on charges of tax evasion and money laundering.

“It is a unique situation in Tunisia,” Prime Minister Youssef Chahed said Friday in a television interview. As the presidential candidate of the Tahya Tounes party, he was eliminated in the first round. “But the justice system is independent,” Mr. Chahed added, “and Nabil Karoui is not a political prisoner. He has charges against him. We are not happy with the situation, but we cannot interfere with the judicial system.”

Mr. Karoui’s supporters have accused Mr. Chahed and his party of orchestrating his arrest in August, after previously trying to amend the election law to prevent Mr. Karoui from running.

“This is a political decision, and the whole issue is political,” a lawyer for Mr. Karoui, Nezih Souei, said in an interview. “He became both a candidate for the presidency and a candidate for his own freedom to be able to do his campaign.”

An appeals court on Tuesday rejected Mr. Karoui’s fourth request for a temporary release, a decision that “is also affecting his voters,” his lawyer said.


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