Tunisian secular Nidaa Tounes party is emerging as the main winner in the 217-seat parliament election after Sunday's vote, preliminary results show.

Led by Beji Caid Essebsi, Nidaa Tunis has won 83 seats (38 percent), according to official provisional results released on Monday.

The North African nation's leading Islamist party, Ennahda, is in second place with 68 seats (31 percent).

Among the other parties, the provisional figures showed Free Patriotic Union and the Popular Front with 17 seats (seven percent) and 12 seats (five percent) respectively.

Essebsi said on Sunday night that there were "positive indications" Nidaa Tounes was ahead.

Ennahda's head acknowledged late on Monday that his party had finished second.

"Ennahda president Rachid Ghannouchi congratulates B Sebsi [Beji Caid Essebsi] on his party's win ... a few moments ago," his daughter Soumaya tweeted.

Party spokesman Zied Laadhari earlier said that: "They [Nidaa Tounes] are ahead by around a dozen seats."
"We will have around 70 seats and they will have about 80" out of 217 contested in Sunday's election, he said.

Lotfi Zitoun, a senior Ennahda official, conceded defeat and reiterated the party's call for the formation of a unity government including Ennahda in the interest of the country, regarded as the birthplace of the Arab Spring.

"We have accepted this result, and congratulate the winner," Zitoun told Reuters news agency.

Setback for Ennahda

The provisional results represent a setback for Ennahda, which had expected to fare much better by betting on its popularity among the poor in many of the country's marginalised communities.

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The party, however, is accused of mismanaging the economy and for inexperience when it led the government during the transitional period.

Ahmed Gaaloul, a member of Ennahda's shura (consultative) council, said history showed that the first governments to lead countries after revolutions often had a difficult time.

"Most of the post-revolution governments faced difficulties, simply because people's expectations are higher after revolution," he told Al Jazeera.

"Governing is not an easy task in those conditions because you don't want to prove powerful when people revolted against that.

"Winning the last elections put us in a very hard exam. With most of our leadership spent years in jails or exile, it was hard to govern."

More orderly time

By voting for Nidaa Tounes, Tunisians appeared to prefer the country's long-established elites over Ennahda, with some hoping for a return of what was a more orderly time before the revolution.

Essebsi served as minister of the interior, defence and foreign affairs under the country's founding president, Habib Bourguiba.

He was then parliamentary speaker under deposed leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. His critics accuse him of seeking to restore the regime of Ben Ali, while his supporters say he is the only credible counterweight to Ennahda.

Ideological polarisation had dominated election campaigning, but the Islamist-secular divide will have to be overcome after the full results are published because a coalition government is a certainty.

"Our vision is that if they are elected, we have to govern within a coalition. It is in the benefit of the country to include all the political players," Ennahda's Gaaloul said.

Foreign observers said Sunday's vote was orderly, despite some reports of isolated irregularities.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies