The risk of Tunisians electing an imprisoned candidate were averted on Wednesday when media mogul Nabil Karoui was freed, days before Sunday’s election runoff after weeks of detention waiting for a verdict in his corruption trial.
Karoui was the runner up in the first round of the presidential election last month despite being held since August 23 in pre-trial detention. He will now face Kais Saied, an independent, in the second round of voting.
Hundreds of supporters who had gathered outside the prison cheered as Karoui departed, a Reuters journalist said, hours after an appeals court ruled that he should be released.
Last week, interim president Mohamed Ennaceur said Karoui’s detention and inability to campaign had damaged the credibility of the election. Election watchdogs had also called for his release saying there could be no fair vote if he was detained.
“His release saved our transition and the situation at the last moment … We were in a very difficult moment in Tunisia which really threatened Tunisian democracy,” Karoui’s spokesman Hatem Mliki said.
Tunisia’s electoral commission has itself warned that Karoui could appeal against the result if he loses as he has been denied equal opportunity to communicate with voters, and that the result could be annulled.
Karoui took 15.6% of the vote in the first round of the election three weeks ago, while retired law professor Saied came first with 18.4%.