Tunisia votes for leader in democracy test

Tunisian media mogul Nabil Karoui is running for president despite facing corruption allegations.
Tunisian media mogul Nabil Karoui is running for president despite facing corruption allegations.

Tunisians have cast ballots to choose their next president in an election that has raised hard tests for the young democracy, as voters rejected established politicians and a major candidate spent weeks behind bars.

Sunday's decisive run-off pits independent law professor Kais Saied against Nabil Karoui, a media mogul facing corruption allegations, after they won more votes than any of the other 24 candidates in the first round last month.

The two candidates offer starkly different options for president: Saied has spent almost nothing on his campaign, has the backing of both leftists and Islamists, and wants Tunisia to adopt an experimental form of direct democracy.

Karoui has courted the poor, showcasing his philanthropy on the television station he owns, but has also appealed to the business elite and to some secular Tunisians worried about Saied's conservative social views.

Karoui was arrested in August and held pending a verdict in his trial for money laundering and tax evasion before a court released him on Wednesday. He denies the accusations against him.

Both candidates present themselves as outsiders taking on an establishment that has failed to improve Tunisia's economy or arrest a decline in living standards since the 2011 revolution that introduced democracy and inspired the Arab spring.

At midday on Sunday, turnout was 17.8 per cent, according to the electoral commission, compared to only 12 per cent at the same time in the first round and 7.8 per cent in the parliamentary election.

Australian Associated Press