Huge Turnout in Tunisia’s First Democratic Polls

Posted October 23rd, 2011 at 3:05 pm (UTC-5)
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Tunisia has held its first democratic elections, just months after a revolution that sparked the Arab Spring uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East.

Tunisians turned out to vote in huge numbers Sunday, expressing excitement and pride at the chance to choose among multiple political parties for the first time since independence in 1956.

The electoral commission said nearly 70 percent of Tunisia's 4.4-million voters had already cast their ballots several hours before the polls closed.

More than 100 parties fielded candidates in the elections. In previous votes, only ruling party candidates were allowed to run.

This was the first vote of the Arab Spring, a little more than nine months after Tunisians overthrew longtime dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.

Voters were electing a 217-seat Constituent Assembly that will have the tasks of naming an interim government and drawing up a new constitution for the North African country.

Results are expected Monday or Tuesday.

Observers predict the moderate Islamist party Ennahdha will win the biggest share of the vote, but will not capture a majority. The party is already in talks to form coalitions.

Ennahdha's leader, Rachid Ghannouchi, joined a long queue with his family to vote in the El Manzah suburb of the capital Sunday. Ghannouchi spoke about the birth of democracy. But in a sign of the tensions between secular and religious Tunisians, some voters yelled at him to leave and called him a “terrorist.”

Polling stations were guarded by police and soldiers, and thousands of domestic and foreign election observers and journalists were on hand to witness the vote.