Supporters of the Ennahdha party gathered outside the party’s headquarters in the Tunisian capital to celebrate what they are calling a victory in the country’s historic elections, as the first official results show the moderate Islamist party in the lead in many districts.
With 87 seats of the 217-seat constituent assembly announced on Tuesday, Ennahdha had won 37 seats. The Congress Party for the Republic (CPR) had 14, Aridha Chaabia 11, Ettakatol 10 and the Progressive Democratic Party five seats.
Ennahdha supporters celebrated with fireworks, drums and singing after the Tunisian electoral body (ISIE by its French acronym) began to deliver the first provisional results for the electorates inside the country, following Sunday’s vote.
The crowd chanted “The people are Muslim”, “We will not surrender”, and “No to atheism”. They also expressed support for the protesters in Syria, and for the Palestinian people.
In a statement, Ennahdha claimed that it won “over 40 per cent” of seats.
“We stress once again that we wish to cooperate with all parties without any exclusion. We are open to all political parties inside the assembly and outside it, as well as civil society bodies such as the great Tunisian trade union and other unions,” the statement said.
“We are in talks in order to form alliances based on a shared economic, social and political programme.”
The party’s leader and founding member, Rachid Ghannouchi made a brief appearance, looking out at the crowd from the window. He did not speak to the crowd, telling Al Jazeera before he left at 11pm (local time) that he would not give a victory speech until the electoral commission had announced the full results.
“It’s a victory,” he said, before reaffirming his statements made ahead of the election that he would not be seeking to be appointed president in any future government.
Instead, Abdellatif Mekki, who headed the party’s list in the El Kef electoral district, addressed the crowd.
“Ennahdha is aware of its huge responsibility and we’ll stay faithful to you,” Mekki said. “We are responsible for all Tunisians, their liberties, their dignity and their interests.”
Faouzi Kharroubi travelled to the capital from the town of Sousse to be present during what was a historic moment for the once-outlawed party.
“I’m here to join the celebration after our electoral success,” said Kharroubi, who had been twice imprisoned for his affiliation with the movement, in 1987 and again in 1991.
“I can’t find the words to explaining the feeling, after everything we experienced during the former dictatorship. [The regimes led by Habib Bourguiba and Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali] were very hard on us. We’ve waited a long time for this moment.”
Coalition talks underway
Ennahdha appears to have already begun that process of coalition formation, even before full results had been announced by the country’s independent election commission.
In an interview with Al Jazeera on Tuesday, Fouad Baly, a leading member of the centre-left party Ettakatol, confirmed that talks were under way with Ennahda.
“It is clear that the largest parties in the constituent assembly must speak amongst themselves to help take this country forward,” Baly told Al Jazeera.
“Mustapha Ben Jaafar [Ettakatol’s general secretary] is a man of consensus, and wants all the political forces in this country to unite to work together.”
He did not give details of the negotiations that, he said, had begun after election day on Sunday.
Ennahdha had claimed victory in the election at a news conference at its headquarters in Tunis, the Tunisian capital, on Monday.
The leaders of two leftist parties, the Congress Party for the Republic (CPR) and Ettakatol, said they were fighting for second place, while the leader of the centre-left Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) conceded defeat.
“Ennahdha 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.
Late on Monday, the Reuters news agency, citing senior al-Nahda official Ali Larayd, reported that al-Nahda was considering forming a coalition with both Ettakatol and the CPR.
Al Jazeera’s Nazanine Moshiri reports from Tunis
Ennahdha has not competed in an election since 1989, when former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali allowed individual candidates from the party to participate before allegedly tampering with the results.
The independent ISIE was created early in the year after Ben Ali was forced from power by a popular uprising.
In the space of a few months, it has written new electoral rules and created electoral lists from scratch, but delivering conclusive results could prove to be its biggest challenge for the ISIE, with some demanding investigations into allegations of election irregularities.
The newly-elected assembly will rewrite the constitution and also choose a new interim government and set dates for parliamentary and presidential elections.
Boubaker Bethabet, the ISIE secretary-general, said 90 per cent of the estimated 4.1 million citizens who had voluntarily registered before the poll cast their votes. There are approximately 7.5 million Tunisians eligible to vote.