Secular old guard biggest winners in Tunisian elections

Secular old guard biggest winners in Tunisian elections
Exit polls show secular Nida Tunis party, headed by ex-Ben Ali-era officials, has come out on top in Tunisia's first post-revolution parliamentary elections.
3 min read
27 October, 2014
Nida Tunis look to have emerged victorious (Anadolu/Getty)
Exit polls are showing a clear win for the secular Nida Tunis party in Tunisia's first post-revolution parliamentary elections, with the Islamist Ennahdha party coming in second.

Nida Tunis, headed by officials associated with the North African country's pre-revolution regime, is projected to have won around 37 percent of the vote, according to the Tunisia-based Sigma Conseil Institute, while Islamist Ennahdha is forecast to gain 26 percent of votes cast.

If confirmed, these results would be a significant  turnaround from the 2011 elections for the Constituent Assembly, in which Ennahdha emerged as the main winner.

Despite its electoral gains, Nida Tunis would still have to rule with other parties as part of a government coalition.

The official election results are not expected until
     There are positive signs we may be first.
- Nida Tunis leader Beji Caid Essebsi
Wednesday, but election officials gave the provisional turnout as 61.8 percent.

Beji Caid Essebsi, Nida Tunis' 87-year-old leader, was pleased with his party's performance.

"There are positive signs we may be first," he said.

Ennahdha took issue with the Nida Tunis announcement, describing it as "irresponsible" to claim victory before all polls were counted.

"Based on our observations, we are optimistic," said Yusra Ghannouchi, a party spokeswoman.

However, Zied Laadhari, another Ennahdha spokesman, appeared to later concede defeat.

"We have estimates which are not yet final. They [Nida Tunis] are ahead by about a dozen seats," Laadhari said.

An emotional rollercoaster?

Long lines formed at polling stations, but the voting was widely described as well organised and orderly.

Tunisians were split in their reaction to the elections.
     If you don't vote, you'll get Libya.
- Zeinab Turabi, voter

"We are proud to vote. It's our duty as citizens and I am optimistic," said Zeinab Turabi, a lawyer in the affluent Tunis neighbourhood of Soukra. "If you don't vote, you'll get Libya." 

Some Tunisians were less optimistic.

Observers said turnout in the slum of Douar Hicher, where residents frequently clash with police and the smell of open garbage piles and untreated sewage wafts along the unpaved streets near polling stations, was low and less than in 2011.

"It didn't get better after 2011 but we still voted in 2014 hoping that it will. But if it doesn't, then no one will vote again," said Ali Mbeet, a worker in a pizza restaurant who complained about the rising prices and lack of jobs.

Even in downtown Tunis, many young men slouching in cafes weren't sporting the telltale inky finger of a voter.
     We voted in 2014 hoping it would [get better]. But if it doesn't, then we won't vote again.
- Ali Mbeet, voter

Coalition a possibility

Tunisia, the country that sparked the Arab revolutions in 2011, may yet see a coalition between secular and Islamist forces.

Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of Ennahdha, put the emphasis on consensus when asked about his initial reaction to the elections.

"Whomever comes out top, Nida or Ennahdha, the main thing is that Tunisia needs a government of national unity, a political consensus. This is the policy that has saved the country from what other Arab Spring countries are going through," he told Hannibal television.

An array of parties competed for seats in the new parliament, some fronted by stalwarts of veteran dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who was toppled in 2011.

His ousting ushered in a coalition government and interim president that won international praise. But Tunisia has flirted with disaster.

A rise in violence last year saw two secular opposition lawmakers assassinated by suspected Islamists, causing a political crisis which threatened to derail the road to democracy.

Critics accuse Ennahdha - Tunisia's pre-poll leading party - and its secular allies, which have been running the country, of failing to address people's security needs or shore up the economy.