Tue, Oct 25, 2011 - Page 1 News List

Islamists claim lead in landmark Tunisian elections

AFP, TUNIS

The leader of Tunisia’s center-left Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), tipped in second place ahead of the country’s first free elections, conceded defeat yesterday as votes were being counted.

“The trend is clear. The PDP is badly placed. It is the decision of the Tunisian people. I bow before their choice,” PDP leader Maya Jribi said at party headquarters, as the Islamist Ennahdha party claimed to be in the lead.

Jribi, the only woman to have led a political party in Sunday’s elections for an assembly tasked with rewriting the Constitution and appointing a caretaker government, congratulated “those who obtained the approval of the Tunisian people.”

“We will be there to defend a modern, prosperous and moderate Tunisia,” she said, adding the PDP would “clearly be in opposition.”

“It is a majority that governs, a minority that opposes,” she said.

Ennahdha predicted it would secure 40 percent of the polls, as the birthplace of the Arab Spring basked in the world’s praise for its democratic revolution.

Official results were only due today, but provisional results released by some media outlets appeared to confirm Ennahdha’s prediction it would control about 40 percent of Tunisia’s constituent assembly.

The body Tunisians turned out en masse to elect on Sunday is seen as the custodian of the pro-democracy revolution, which brought Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s 23-year-old rule to a crushing end nine months ago.

“We are not far from 40 percent. It could be a bit more or a bit less, but we are sure to take 24 [of the 27] voting districts,” Samir Dilou, a member of Ennahdha’s political bureau said, quoting “our sources.”

Data posted on the site of independent radio station Mosaique FM also gave Ennahdha the lead based on non-definitive results from 40 polling centers.

The polls, for which more than 90 percent of about 4.1 million registered voters turned out, won hearty acclaim from world leaders closely scrutinizing developments on the soil of the Arab Spring’s trailblazer.

Analysts widely predicted Ennahdha to win the most votes, but fall short of a majority in Sunday’s elections for a new 217-member assembly that will rewrite the Constitution and appoint a president to form a caretaker government.

The assembly will decide on the country’s system of government and how to guarantee basic liberties, including women’s rights, which many fear Ennahdha would seek to diminish despite its assurances to the contrary.

It will also have interim authority to write laws and pass budgets.

Ennahdha says it models itself on the ruling Justice and Development party in Turkey, another Muslim-majority country which, like Tunisia, to date has a secular state.

This was Tunisia’s first-ever electoral contest without a predetermined outcome and the first run by an independent electoral body after decades of ballot-stuffing by the interior ministry.

Elections chief Kamel Jendoubi said on Sunday that turnout had “exceeded all expectations.”

The, interim government will remain in power until the assembly appoints a new president, not before Nov. 9.

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