Early sign in Tunisia of strong Islamist vote

Tunis, Oct 24: Tunisian authorities counted votes on Oct 24 in carefully watched elections, amid early signs showing a once-banned Islamist party leading in many constituencies in the country that unleashed uprisings across the Arab world.

Tunisia was known for decades for its repressive leadership but also for its progressive legislation on women and families, which secular-leaning Tunisians fear the moderate Islamist party Ennahda would roll back if it takes a commanding number of seats in the new assembly being created by elections held yesterday.

Tunisia's landmark elections coincided with declarations in neighbouring Libya by its new leaders that the country has been liberated from the yoke of longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi.

The new leaders also announced plans with a sharply Islamist tone that could rattle their Western backers. In Tunisia, Radio Mosaique FM posted results from polling stations around the country today, with many showing a commanding lead for Ennahda.

Election commission head Kamel Jendoubi said official results would be released tomorrow. Turnout was massive on a day electric with the excitement of Tunisia's first truly free elections in its history, with long lines at polling stations.

More than 90 per cent of the 4.1 million registered voters, out of a 7.5 million strong electorate, participated, said Boubker Bethabet, Secretary General of the election commission. Voters were electing a 217-seat constituent assembly that will shape their fledgling democracy, choose a new government and write a new constitution that would pave the way for future elections.

After 23 years in power, President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali was overthrown on January 14 by a month-long uprising.


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