Huge Turnout in Tunisia’s First Democratic Polls

Posted October 23rd, 2011 at 12:35 pm (UTC-5)
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Tunisia, whose revolution sparked the “Arab Spring” revolts across North Africa and the Middle East, is again making history, holding its first-ever democratic election.

Tunisians are turning out in huge numbers Sunday, and 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 are fielding candidates in the election. In previous votes, only ruling party candidates were allowed to run.

This is the first vote of the Arab Spring, a little more than nine months after Tunisians overthrew longtime dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. If the poll produces an effective government, it could emerge as a model for the region.

Voters are electing a 217-seat Constituent Assembly, to be given the tasks of naming an interim government and drawing up a new constitution for the North African country.

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 some voters yelled at him to leave and called him a “terrorist.”

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