Ennahda took 90 of 217 seats
A supporter of Tunisia's Islamist Ennahda party arranges the national flag. The party celebrated and got to work on forming a coalition government after winning a strong mandate in the Arab Spring's first elections. © Fethi Belaid - AFP
Ennahda took 90 of 217 seats
Mariette le Roux, AFP
Last updated: October 28, 2011

Tunisia's Islamist party celebrates election win

Tunisia's Islamist Ennahda party celebrated and got to work on Friday on forming a coalition government after winning a strong mandate in the Arab Spring's first elections.

Nine months after the ouster of dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, the party he had banned took 90 of 217 seats, 41.47 percent, in a new assembly that will rewrite the constitution and appoint a president and a caretaker government.

The announcement however triggered violent protests in Sidi Bouzid, the birthplace of Tunisia's January revolution, with large crowds marching on the party's headquarters.

"I thank God for this victory, we are on the road of glory," Ennahda's number two and its prime ministerial candidate, Hamadi Jebali, said after the vote tally was announced late on Thursday.

"Thank you to our martyrs. I bow before their sacrifice, and salute our competitors and those who did not vote for us," he said on national television.

"The results of a big test," La Presse daily wrote, adding: "Tunisians voted poorly for modernists and liberals."

The results gave the second place to the leftist Congress for the Republic (CPR) with 30 seats, and the third to Ettakatol with 21.

Both parties, while secular in their constitutions, have stressed Tunisia's Muslim identity and did not base their campaigns on criticism of Ennahda, said La Presse.

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

Senior CPR member Mohamed Abbou told AFP: "We are talking with Ennahda and with Ettakatol to form a government."

Ennahda was registered as a political party in March, two months after Ben Ali's ouster in a popular revolt during which it had stayed on the background.

It presents itself as a moderate Islamic party.

Preempting the official news of its victory, Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi said on Wednesday the party had intended to form a new coalition government "within no more than 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.

The grouping in surprise fourth place, the Petition for Justice and Development, saw six of its candidates' lists invalidated, including in the central town of Sidi Bouzid where the uprising that toppled Ben Ali started last December.

The group, led by Hechmi Haamdi, a rich London-based businessman said to have close ties to Ben Ali, still managed 19 assembly seats, but Haamdi withdrew his candidates from the assembly after the invalidation was announced.

Violent protests broke out in Sidi Bouzid after the news, with witnesses saying more than 2,000 young people marched on Ennahda's headquarters in Sidi Bouzid, where they pelted security forces with stones and burnt tyres in the street.

The new assembly will determine the country's system of government and how to guarantee basic liberties, including women's rights, which many in Tunisia fear Ennahda would seek to diminish despite its assurances to the contrary.

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.

Ennahda said it met bankers and stockbrokers on Thursday to "reassure" them, adding it had no intention "to impose a constitution ... that abrogates the freedom of belief, individual liberties, the legal position of women and their place in society."

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