Moderate Islamists lead as Tunisia poll verified

TUNISIAN authorities yesterday counted votes in the first free election in the nation’s history, with early signs that a once-banned Islamist party is leading in the country that unleashed the Arab Spring.

Radio Mosaique posted results from polling stations around the country, with many showing a commanding lead for the moderate Islamist party Ennahda. An Ennahda win in a comparatively secular society such as Tunisia could have wide implications for similar parties across North Africa.

Election commission head Kamel Jendoubi said that official results would be released later today.

European observers pronounced the election one of the freest they had ever seen and urged all parties to accept the results. Long lines of voters on Sunday testified to Tunisians’ eagerness to embrace an open ballot after decades of dictatorship.

“There is no way of arguing the legitimacy of the outcome, absolutely not, even if there is disappointment,” said Swiss parliamentarian Andreas Gross, head of the Council of Europe’s observer delegation.

Many parties have accused Ennahda of election violations, from advising voters how to cast their ballots to the outright purchase of votes, but observers dismissed the reports.

Tunisia was long known for repressive leadership but also for its progressive legislation on women and families, which secular-leaning Tunisians fear Ennahda will roll back if it takes a commanding number of seats.

Ennahda says Islam should be the reference point for Tunisia’s laws, but maintains it will respect women’s rights and is committed to democracy and working with other parties.

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