Tunisia’s presidential election looks to have secured first-round victory for two anti-establishment candidates with two-thirds of the vote counted from this Sunday’s poll.
Kais Saïed, law professor and political outsider, leads the contest with 18.9% as of Monday night.
“Voters have carried out a revolution within a legal framework,” the previously little-known candidate said in Tunis.
“They want something new. New political thinking.”
Saïed ran on a platform of overhauling the constitution and a voting system to decentralise power and put an end to corruption.
He is socially conservative, supporting the death penalty, criminalisation of homosexuality and a sexual assault law that punishes unmarried couples who engage in public displays of affection.
The outsider ran as an independent, shunning Tunisia’s two main parties: the secular Tahya Tounes party, which split from the late-president Essebsi’s Nidaa Tounes party earlier this year, and the Ennahda Movement, which runs as a Muslim democratic party.
Prime Minister Youssef Chahed suffered a surprising defeat as leader of the Tahya Tounes party.
The presidential hopeful’s popularity has been tarnished by the current establishment’s failure to reinvigorate Tunisia’s economy which has been teetering on recession since the 2011 revolution.
IMF-mandated hikes to grain and bread prices spurred widespread anti-government protests last year.
Unemployment is currently running at 15% and the cost of living has risen by close to a third since 2016.
Imprisoned media-magnate Nabil Karoui’s second place victory adds to the feeling of discontent against the current political class.
Karoui, charged with tax fraud and money laundering last month, came in second place at 15.5% of the vote.
His critics accuse him of being populist and using his media channel and philanthropy to gather votes.
If he is convicted by the courts before the next vote, he will be constitutionally barred from the run-off; a situation which sparks fears of unrest from his supporters.
The date for the second and final round between the top two candidates, currently Saïed and Karoui, has not yet been announced but must be held by October 23rd at the latest.