Tunisia’s moderate Islamist party, Ennahda, is claiming victory in the country’s first democratic elections. Official results are expected on Tuesday, but provisional results suggest that Ennahda will win most votes while falling short of a majority. Its main rival, the secular centre-left PDP party, has admitted defeat. International observers praised the conduct of Sunday’s election as free and fair.
However, unlike its eastern neighbour Libya, Tunisia’s transition from authoritarian rule has been largely peaceful. Ennahda’s leaders have pledged to create a multi-party, secular democracy, and not an Islamist state. A spokeswoman for the party, Yusra Ghannouchi, said: “Tunisians have voted in fact for those parties that have been consistently part of the struggle for democracy and opposed to Ben Ali’s dictatorship. “At the forefront of those parties is Ennahda party, and we believe that, as expected, it has achieved the greatest share of the vote.” The official result is due to be announced later today (Tuesday).
Tunisians are electing a 217-seat assembly that will draft a constitution and appoint an interim president, who will choose the new government. Electoral commission secretary-general Boubaker Bethabet said more than 90 per cent of the 4.1 million registered citizens had voted. No turnout figures were available for another 3.1 million unregistered people who also had the right to vote. More than 100 parties had registered to participate in the elections, along with a number of independent candidates.
Hundreds of foreign election observers and thousands of local ones monitored the poll and will be watching the vote counting. The US and EU have praised Tunisia on the peaceful election process, with President Barack Obama saying the vote was “an important step forward”. Former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was overthrown nine months ago after mass demonstrations – he had been in power for 23 years until he fled to Saudi Arabia on 14 January. Many voters emerged from polling stations holding up blue-stained index fingers – proud to show they had cast their ballots.
The mother of Mohamed Bouazizi, the young man whose self-immolation last December triggered the Tunisian revolt, told Reuters news agency the election was a victory for dignity and freedom. “Now I am happy that my son’s death has given the chance to get beyond fear and injustice,” Manoubia Bouazizi said. “I’m an optimist. I wish success for my country.”
Campaigning in Tunisia was marked by concerns over splits between Islamists and secularists, party funding and voter apathy.