TUNIS, (AFP) — Official results Tuesday are expected to confirm the dominance of an Islamist party in Tunisia’s first elections since the overthrow of dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali nine months ago that sparked the Arab Spring.
The Islamist Ennahda already claimed to have taken the biggest block of votes, up to 40 percent, as the country basked Monday in praise for its democratic transition.
“Ennahda close to power?” the Arabic-language Le Maghreb daily asked with a full front page photograph of party leader Rached Ghannouchi saluted by a member of the presidential guard. The photograph was taken on an earlier visit to the presidency.
Results are due later Tuesday in Tunisia’s first-ever democratic polls in which massive numbers of voters elected a new 217-member assembly that will rewrite the constitution and appoint a new caretaker president and government for the duration of the drafting process.
A provisional count showed Ennahda had won half of the 18 seats reserved for expatriate representatives on the assembly in separate elections held on October 20, 21, and 22.
The assembly will decide on the country’s system of government and how to guarantee basic liberties, including women’s rights, which many in Tunisia fear Ennahda would seek to diminish despite its assurances to the contrary.
It will also have interim authority to write laws and pass budgets.
Ennahda says it models itself on the ruling AKP party in Turkey, another Muslim-majority country which like Tunisia to date has a secular state.
Ennahda’s critics have accused the party of preaching modernism in public and radicalism in the mosques.
“Today the verdict, and now?” the French-language Le Temps asked on its front page Tuesday, as speculation about coalition forming began. The other biggest parties set to make up the assembly all have leftist, liberal programmes.
The leader of the secular centre-left PDP party, tipped as Ennahda’s main challenger before the vote, conceded defeat.
“The trend is clear. The PDP is badly placed. It is the decision of the Tunisian people. I bow before their choice,” leader Maya Jribi told AFP at her party’s headquarters Monday.
Instead, the leaders of two other leftist parties, Ettakatol and the Congress for the Republic (CPR), said they were fighting it out for second place, both expecting to get about 15 percent of the vote.
Ennahda sought to reassure investors Monday that there would be stability and said it was open to a coalition with any party “without exception”.
“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,” executive party member Abdelhamid Jlassi told journalists in Tunis.
His colleague Nourreddine Bhiri told AFP: “We respect the rights of women … and equality between Tunisians whatever their religion, their sex or their social status.”
Ben Ali was ousted in January after 23 years of iron-fisted rule in a popular uprising that sparked region-wide revolts which claimed their latest Arab strongman last Thursday with the killing of Moamer Kadhafi of Libya.
The electoral system was designed to include as many parties as possible in drafting the new constitution, expected to take a year, ahead of fresh national polls.
The current interim government will remain in power until the assembly appoints a new president, not expected before November 9.