Islamist Party Claims Victory in Tunisia’s Election

Posted October 25th, 2011 at 3:50 am (UTC-5)
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Tunisia's moderate Islamist party has taken steps to form a coalition after saying it has won enough votes in Sunday's election to claim victory.

Official results will not be announced until Tuesday, but provisional results give the Ennahdha party close to 40 percent of the vote. There are estimates the party's share could reach 50 percent.

Ennahdha says it is prepared to shape a new government modeled after the secular, pluralist democracy in Turkey, whose ruling party also has an Islamic identity.

The landmark election, which was widely considered free and fair, is the first to emerge from the Arab Spring which has seen despotic governments topple across North Africa and the Middle East.

Voters were electing a 217-seat constituent assembly that will draw up a new constitution. The assembly will be charged with determining the system of government and ensuring civil liberties. In the meantime, it will also appoint a caretaker government.

Former Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo was among thousands of international and domestic observers. He called the vote not only free and fair but exemplary.

Tunisia's independent electoral commission said more than 90 percent of the 4.1 million registered voters cast ballots. They were allowed to choose among multiple political parties for the first time since independence in 1956. In previous votes, only ruling party members were allowed to run.

Election observers predict that women could capture nearly one third of the seats in the constituent assembly, a far larger proportion than in any Arab country.

But there is concern that Ennahdha could reverse some of the progress in women's rights that has been made in Tunisia.

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

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a message of congratulations on Sunday, said the election is a significant development in the democratic transition of the region.

U.S. President Barack Obama offered his congratulations as well, saying Tunisia has “changed the course of history” and “inspired the world.”