Tunisia’s Ennahdha Movement has scooped the largest share of the vote in the country’s first free municipal elections since the removal of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his government in 2011, according to reports on state-run TV.
The Ennahdha party reportedly won an estimated 27.5 percent of votes in Sunday’s ballot, ahead of the Nidaa Tounes party, which came second with an estimated 22.5 percent.
In total, more than 57,000 candidates – half of them women and young people – ran for office in Tunisia’s 350 municipalities.
Official results are expected to be announced by May 9.
Analysts predict that the Ennahdha Movement and Nidaa Tounes, Tunisia’s two political heavyweights, will come out on top in nearly every district.
Overall turnout for the election is predicted to have been low, with Tunisia’s High Election Commission saying just 21 percent of registered participants had cast their vote by 3pm local time (14:00 GMT).
Polls closed at 6pm local time (17:00 GMT).
Prior to the vote, Tunisian President Caid Essebsi had called for a “massive turnout”.
“This Sunday will not be like other days. For the first time, the Tunisian people are called to participate in municipal elections, something that seems simple but it is very important,” Essebsi said on Saturday.
Tunisia’s parliament adopted a new law on local authorities on May 1, only a few days before the municipal elections.
“The local government code is a major law. This is perhaps the most important law passed after the constitution. This will completely change the development model in Tunisia. It’s the decentralisation process,” Minister of Local Communities and Environment Riadh Mouakher said earlier this month.
The former law – which dates back to 1973 – recognised neither their administrative nor financial independence.
While Tunisia has voted in parliamentary and presidential elections since 2011, municipal polls have been delayed four times due to logistic, administrative and political hurdles.
The municipal elections, enshrined in the new constitution and one of the demands of the 2011 revolution, mark the first tangible step of decentralisation since the end of Ben Ali’s rule.
But interest in the poll among Tunisians appears to have remained muted as struggles with corruption and poverty continue.
The country was hit by a wave of protests at the start of the year over a new austerity budget introduced by the government.
Some 60,000 police and military personnel were mobilised for the polls in a country still under a state of emergency after a string of deadly attacks three years ago.
Sunday’s vote will be followed by legislative and presidential elections in 2019.