Islamist party Ennahda leads Tunisian election count

Islamist party Ennahda leads Tunisian election count

The counting of votes from Tunisia's historic first free elections was underway Monday, with unofficial early results showing the moderate Islamist party Ennahda taking a commanding lead, DPA reported.

The independent electoral authority has not yet published any results, but a member of Ennahda's executive council, Ali Marayedh, told dpa that results trickling in from polling stations around the country put the party far out in front.

Tunisians participated en masse in the first elections since the country's youth rose up against dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January, forcing him into exile in a revolt that inspired popular uprisings across the Arab world.

"Results from various regions show Ennahda far ahead, with between 25 and 50 per cent of the vote, depending on the area," Marayedh said.

A spokeswoman for the Progressive Democratic Party, the biggest of the opposition parties that was tolerated by ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, confirmed the pro-Ennahda trend.

"It's a shift in the history of Tunisia which has always been modernist, which has always been open, and which is now opting for a largely Islamist choice," Maya Jribi, secretary general of the PDP told France Info radio.

Seventy-seven parties fielded lists in Sunday's election of a 217-seat constituent assembly that will draw up a new constitution and appoint a new transitional government. Thousands of independent candidates also stood for election.

Minor transgressions of the electoral law were reported in some places, but Tunisian human rights described the vote as free and fair.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the peaceful elections confirmed Tunisia's "pioneer role" and said Tunisians could be "legitimately proud."

The United States and European Union have also praised the election with President Barack Obama describing the process as "an important step forward".

The final results will only be announced Tuesday - a delay attributed to the huge turnout.

Over 90 per cent of 4.1 million registered voters, and large numbers of non-registered voters, cast a vote, according to the election authority.

No party is expected to win an outright majority. Ennahda, which was banned under Ben Ali, says it would like to form a broad coalition with other parties, but many secular parties view the party with suspicion.

Analysts say the party could form a coalition with the leftist Congress of the Republic of Moncef Marzouki, which was also banned under Ben Ali.

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