Vote counting is under way in Tunisia after the country’s first-ever democratic elections to choose an assembly to re-write the constitution, nine months since former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was toppled from power.
However, with an unexpectedly large number of ballot papers to count, it remained unclear when election officials planned to announce the results of Sunday’s vote.
There was huge turnout in Sunday’s elections as voters exercised their rights to choose the 217-seat assembly which will 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.
Some early forecasts suggested a moderate Islamist party, al-Nahda, would emerge with the biggest share of the vote, with Tunisian state radio reporting on Monday that incomplete counts in two provincial cities, Sfax and Kef, had al-Nahda in the lead.
The Congress Party for the Republic, a leftist secular party, was in second place in Sfax, and Ettakatol, another socialist group, was running second in Kef, the radio said.
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.
Zied Mhirsi, a prominent Tunisian blogger, told Al Jazeera: “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,” he said.
“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.
— With reporting from Yasmine Ryan