The leader of Tunisia’s Islamist Ennahda party congratulated his secular rival on October 27th for “his party’s win” in a general election seen as critical for democracy in the cradle of the Arab Spring.
The first parliamentary election since Tunisia’s 2011 revolution pitted Ennahda against secular opponent Nidaa Tounes, with an array of leftist and Islamist groups also taking part.
Analysts predicted no single group would win the outright majority needed to govern alone. But Ennahda’s head acknowledged late on October 27th that his party had finished second.
“#Ennahda president Rachid Ghannouchi congratulates B Sebsi (Beji Caid Essebsi) on his party’s win… a few moments ago,” his daughter Soumaya said on Twitter.
Party spokesman Zied Laadhari earlier told AFP that “they (Nidaa Tounes) are ahead by around a dozen seats”.
Nidaa Tounes, whose name means “Call of Tunisia”, boasted on Facebook that it had bested its long-dominant Islamist rival.
“We won. Long live Tunisia,” it said.
Some 80,000 security forces were deployed to avert extremist attacks on polling day, which passed without major incident, as some three million from an electorate of five million people voted for a 217-seat parliament under a new constitution drafted in January.
US President Barack Obama hailed the vote as “an important milestone in Tunisia’s historic political transition”.
Tunisia is seen as a beacon of hope compared with other chaos-hit countries like Libya and Egypt, where regimes were also toppled during the Arab Spring three years ago.
But its transition has been tested by militant attacks and social unrest, while poverty and unemployment, which were key factors that sparked the 2011 revolt, remain unresolved.
The whole campaign was fought on the axis of the economy and security.
La Presse de Tunisie, the country’s main French-language newspaper, said the election was a major achievement on the path to establishing stable institutions in the former French colony.
“The mission is almost accomplished, which is considerable,” it said in a commentary.
The government had warned of possible jihadist attacks after a standoff on October 24th between police and suspected militants near Tunis that killed a policeman and six suspects, five of them women.
The head of the EU observer mission, Annemie Neyts-Uytterbroeck, told a news conference on October 28th that the elections were “credible and transparent”.
“Polling day passed off in a calm and orderly fashion. Everything was really very normal,” she said.
“The campaign generally went smoothly. Freedom of expression and assembly were respected.”
Early on October 28th al-Jazeera said that Nidaa Tounes had won 83 seats (38%), while Ennahda had won 68 seats (31%)
Among the other parties, the provisional figures showed Free Patriotic Union and the Popular Front with 17 seats (7%) and 12 seats (5%) respectively.