The moderate Islamist party al-Nahda has claimed that it has won more than 30 per cent of seats in Tunisia’s 217-member consitutent assembly, following the country’s historic election.
“The first confirmed results show that al-Nahda has obtained first place nationally and in most districts,” the party’s campaign manager, Abelhamid Jlassi, said at a news conference, citing al-Nahda’s own election observers’ reports.
The party’s claim came ahead of an announcement by the country’s independent election commission, in which it was to offcially declare results for overseas seats.
The leaders of two leftist parties, the Congress Party for the Republic (CPR) and Ettakol, said they were fighting for second place, while the leader of the centre-left Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) conceded defeat on Monday evening.
“Al-Nahda is certainly the majority, but there are two other democratic entities, Ettakatol and the CPR, who were weak at the start but now find themselves in the position to contribute to political life and usher a rational modernity in this Arab-Muslim country,” Khalil Zaouia, Ettakatol’s number two, said.
Overseas seats followed the trends established for domestic districts, with nine of the 18 seats reserved for overseas Tunisians going to al-Nahda, four to Ettakatol, three to the CPR, and one each to the Democratic Modernist Coalition (PDM) and the List For Liberty And Development, according to an announcement by the country’s election commission.
Samir Dilou, a member of al-Nahda’s political bureau, said that his party had won “not far from 40 per cent” of the vote.
“The trend is clear. The PDP is badly placed. It is the decision of the Tunisian people. I bow before their choice,” PDP leader Maya Jribi told the AFP news agency at her party’s headquarters in Tunis.
“We will be there to defend a modern, prosperous and moderate Tunisia,” she said, adding the PDP would “clearly be in opposition”.
Jlassi said that al-Nahda’s priority was to restore stability to Tunisia.
“We would like to reassure our trade and economic partners, and all actors and investors, we hope very soon to have stability and the right conditions for investment in Tunisia,” he said.
“The priorities for Tunisia are clear. They are stability, conditions for a dignified life and the building of democratic institutions in Tunisia. We are open to anyone who shares these objectives. We are open to all forces without
exception,” he said.
The election, held on Sunday, was the country’s first-ever democratic poll to choose an assembly to rewrite the constitution, nine months after former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was toppled from power.
With an unexpectedly large number of ballot papers to count, it remained unclear when election officials planned to announce the results of the vote.
There was a huge turnout as voters exercised their rights to choose the 217-seat assembly, which will also choose a new interim government and set dates for parliamentary and presidential elections.
Boubaker Bethabet, the secretary-general of the independent ISIE polling commission, said 90 per cent of the estimated 4.1 million citizens who registered ahead of the poll cast their votes.
No figures were available for the other 3.1 million voters who did not pre-register but also had the right to vote, as facilities for registration existed at most polling stations.
Al-Nahda, citing its own, unofficial tally from votes cast by the large Tunisian diaspora, said indications were that it had done well. Overseas voting was held days before Sunday’s election.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Zied Mhirsi, a prominent Tunisian blogger, said: “It is clear al-Nahda has a majority, the question is to what extent? Will they be the only ones forming a government?
“Every party is basically trying to see to what extent they can compromise with al-Nahda to organise a government.
“I don’t expect our revolution to become an Islamic Revolution but, at the same time, I expect Islam to be a part of Tunisian life, the way you could see it in Turkey.
“Al-Nahda has already shown a commitment to the declarations on human rights.”
Queues before dawn
Long lines of people had formed at polling stations before dawn on Sunday, growing into winding queues of voters keen to take part in the country’s first electoral contest without a pre-determined result.
Al Jazeera’s Nazanine Moshiri reports from Tunis
More than 11,000 candidates ran in the election, representing 80 political parties. Several thousand candidates ran as independents.
The electoral system was designed to include as many parties as possible in drafting the new constitution, which is expected to take a year, ahead of fresh elections.
Sunday’s vote drew praise internationally, with US President Barack Obama saying that Tunisia’s revolution had “changed the course of history”.
“Just as so many Tunisian citizens protested peacefully in streets and squares to claim their rights, today they stood in lines and cast their votes to determine their own future,” Obama said in a statement issued by the White House.
The EU also hailed the elections and vowed support for the new authorities.
‘Victory for dignity’
The mother of Mohamed Bouazizi, the young vegetable seller whose self-immolation last December set of the Tunisian revolt, said that the elections were 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 told the Reuters news agency. I’m an optimist, I wish success for my country.”
Ahmed Néjib Chebbi, the founder of the PDP, a centre-left political party, came to vote in Tahrir Mhiri, La Marsa.
“This is a celebration of democracy,” he told Al Jazeera. “People are here to exercise their duties as citizens, and they are showing that they deserve the rights which they have been deprived of for decades.”
Concerning the heckling of al-Nahda leader Rachid Ghannouchiand his family after they cast their votes at El Menzah 6 this morning, Nejib Chebbi said it was “regrettable” that the leader of al-Nahda had been treated in this way.
“No matter what his political ideas might be, Mr. Ghannouchi is a Tunisian citizen who deserves respect. Today is not a day for protest,” he said.