Tunis – Tunisia’s leading secular party, Nidaa Tounes, looked like the big winner after the country voted for its first full parliament since a revolution in 2011, preliminary results from Sunday’s vote showed.
Nidaa Tounes, led by Beji Caid Essebsi, won 83 seats, while the Islamist Ennahda party, which had dominated the north African country’s politics since the revolution, came second with 68 seats, according to official provisional results released on Monday.
Most of the post-revolution governments faced difficulties, simply because people's expectations are higher after revolution.
Ennahda, which had a majority in the first parliament and led the writing of a new constitution, won 31 percent of the votes as compared to Nidaa Tounes’ 38 percent in the 217-seat parliament.
Among the other parties, provisional figures showed the Free Patriotic Union and the Popular Front with 17 seats (seven percent) and 12 seats (five percent) respectively.
The results represented a setback for Ennahda, which had expected to fare much better by leaning on its popularity with the poor in many of the country’s marginalised communities.
But the party was also accused of mismanaging the economy and of inexperience when governed during the transitional period.
Ahmed Gaaloul, a member of the party’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. Governing is not an easy task in those conditions because you don’t want to prove powerful when people revolted against that,” Gaaloul told Al Jazeera.
“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,” he said.
By voting 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, the 87-year-old leader of Nidaa Tounes, 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 the deposed dictator, 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,” Gaaloul said.
Voting went smoothly with a surprisingly strong turnout of over 60 percent. All exit polls carried prior to the election day prediceted a decline in number of voters, partly due to what has been a tense transition since 2011.
Foreign observers said the poll was orderly, despite some reports of isolated irregularities.