Analysts say that Ennahda would be unable to "dictate" any programme to the assembly
Tunisians pray during friday priyers at the Fath mosque on October 28 in Tunis. The Islamist Ennahda party, flush from victory in Tunisia's first free elections, has sounded a unifying note and called for calm after violence in the town where the country's revolution began. © Fethi Belaid - AFP
Analysts say that Ennahda would be unable to
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Mariette le Roux, AFP
Last updated: October 29, 2011

Tunisia Islamist party celebrates election triumph

The Islamist Ennahda party, flush from victory in Tunisia's first free elections, sounded a unifying note Friday and called for calm after violent protests in the town where the country's revolution began.

Ennahda chief Rached Ghannouchi reached out to all political forces following the election where his party took the most seats in an assembly that will rewrite the constitution and appoint a president and a caretaker government.

"Democracy is for everyone," he told journalists. "We ask that all our brothers, whatever their political outlook, participate in the writing of the constitution and the installation of a democratic regime."

"The revolution didn't take place to destroy a state, but to destroy a regime," he said.

But as victory celebrations were under way, Ennahda offices in Sidi Bouzid, the birthplace of the Tunisian revolution, were targeted by youths upset after election authorities disqualified candidates belonging to a rival party.

Ghannouchi, speaking at party headquarters, called for calm as the interior ministry announced that a curfew would be imposed from 7:00 pm (1800 GMT) Friday to 5:00 am Saturday in the central Tunisian town.

Several public buildings were vandalised overnight, windows were smashed and some threw stones at police.

Tension remained high late Friday despite the curfew, as disgruntled groups were threatening further damage and the army boosted partrols in the town, an AFP correspondent reported.

Late-night results showed Ennahda, banned under ousted dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, took 90 of the 217 assembly seats, or 41 percent.

Some have voiced concern that the Islamist party would seek to curb women's rights in an Arab country known for a progressive approach on gender equality.

Ghannouchi however reaffirmed his party's "commitment to the women of Tunisia, to strengthen their role in political decision-making, in order to avoid any going back on their social gains."

The historic polls nine months after Ben Ali's ouster saw the Congress for the Republic (CPR) and Ettakatol emerge as the biggest parties on the splintered left, with 30 and 21 seats respectively. Both have said they were in coalition talks with Ennahda.

Fourth place, with 19 seats, went to the Popular Petition for Justice and Development, a grouping of independents led by Hechmi Haamdi, a rich London-based businessman said to have close ties to Ben Ali, despite the invalidation of six of the party's candidates' lists.

Speaking to AFP on Thursday in London before the results were announced, Haamdi urged his backers, behind the unrest in Sidi Bouzid, to remain calm.

He said he was surprised by Ennahda's announcement that it would not enter into coalition talks with his party's representatives over his alleged ties to Ben Ali.

In the offices of the Pan-Arab television channel Al-Mustakillah which he owns, Haamdi told AFP he "was hurt that (Ennahda) should refuse to talk to a campaign that represents more than half a million voters."

He has been in exile in the British capital since the 1980s and said he was being congratulated for a successful electoral campaign that he mastermined from abroad.

"I stood for the things people died for", he said.

The CPR and Ettakatol, while secular, have insisted on Tunisia's Muslim identity and did not run anti-Ennahda campaigns like some of the other parties on the left, the daily La Presse commented.

"The Ennahda/CPR/Ettakatol alliance crystallises," La Quotidien said on its front page.

Analysts have said that Ennahda, even in a majority alliance, would be unable to "dictate" any programme to the assembly, being obliged to appease coalition partners, a moderate-minded society, and the international community on whose investment and tourism the country relies heavily.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Friday congratulated Ennahda for its victory while commending all parties who contested in the vote.

Ghannouchi said Wednesday that his party intended to form a new coalition government within a month.

The electoral system was designed to include as many parties as possible in drafting the new constitution, expected to take a year, ahead of fresh national polls.

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