TUNIS (Dispatches) -- Tunisia’s President-elect Kais Saied has denounced the idea of normalization of ties with the occupying regime of Israel, saying any such move constitutes treason.
Speaking during a pre-election debate with his main rival Nabil Karoui, Saied said Tunisia was in a state of war with Israel, and that anybody who normalized relations with Tel Aviv had to be tried for treason.
Karoui, commenting on the same topic, said he believed ties with Tel Aviv were illegal. Tunisia, he said, should support Palestinians in whatever position they take regarding the Israeli regime.
The African country has no diplomatic relations with the Zionist regime. Last year, Tunisia’s parliament was expected to vote on a draft proposal that criminalized the normalization of ties with Israel.
The bill, however, did not get the endorsement from late Tunisian president Caid Essebsi, who passed away in July last year.
His death brought forward the presidential election to September, when law professor Saied and detained media mogul Karoui won the most votes. The vote advanced into a runoff, which was held on Sunday.
Karoui on Monday conceded defeat, issuing a statement of congratulations to Saied, whom exit polls had earlier showed winning by a landslide.
"I would like to congratulate you on your election to the presidency,” Karoui said in a statement several hours before the electoral commission was expected to announce official preliminary results.
Thousands of his supporters took to streets late on Sunday to celebrate after the exit polls were released.
Where in 2011 they gathered to chant "the people want the fall of the regime”, on Sunday night they chanted "the people want a strong Saied”, holding candles and setting off fireworks.
"We are happy because this victory returned the spirit of the revolution,” said one of Saied’s supporters there, who gave only his first name Nejib.
Saied appeared in front of them in the capital Tunis and thanked "young people for turning a new page” in the country. "We will try to build a new Tunisia. Young people led this campaign, and I am responsible for them,” he told the crowd.
The Sunday election was the second since the 2011 uprising which led to the ouster of former ruler Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and triggered similar mass protests, known as the Arab Spring in other Arab nations including in Libya and Egypt.
As president, Saied faces a difficult moment in Tunisian political history.
The parliament elected last week is deeply fractured and though the moderate Ennahda party that took most seats backed him on Sunday after its own candidate was beaten in the first round, it may struggle to build a ruling coalition.
The prime minister, chosen by parliament, has more direct powers than the president, but since he is the most senior elected official in Tunisia, he shoulders much of the public praise or blame for the state of the country.
All recent governments have been bedeviled by economic ills: unemployment of 15%, inflation of 6.8%, high public debt, a powerful union that opposes economic reforms and foreign lenders who demand them.