Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Secular party wins most seats in Tunisian election with Islamists coming second

Nidaa Tounes, a secular party has won the most seats in yesterday's election in Tunisia. It main rival the moderate Islamist Ennahda came in second.

The Turkish news agency Anadolu. after examining its count of 214 of the 217 seats in parliament. claimed that Nidaa Tounes had won 83 seats, with about 38 percent of the popular vote, while Ennahda won only 68 with about 31 percent. Mourakiboun, a Tunisian election observer group, claimed that Nidaa Tounes had 37 percent of the vote with Ennahda at 28 percent. Officials from both the main parties said that although the results were still somewhat premature, they matched their own information. Final results will probably be released on Tuesday.
 Nidaa Tounes is led by Beji Essebsi, who served under the deposed Ben Ali and even earlier under Bourgouiba, the founder of independent Tunisia. He is 87. The party is a coalition of former pre-revolution officials, secularists, and liberals formed back in 2012. Turnout for the elections was about 62 percent of eligible voters. There is to be a presidential election next month. This is the second election since the Arab Spring uprising that overthrew President Ben Ali in 2011. Ben Ali is in exile in Saudi Arabia. Ennahda won the most seats in the first election and formed a coalition government. However, radical Islamist groups caused security problems and the economy has not prospered. There were large protests against the government. However, Ennahda agreed to step down after mediation by the powerful Tunisian trade unions, and a transition government was agreed to that resulted in the present elections.
 An Ennahda official conceded defeat but called for a coalition unity government. Lotfi Zitoun said: "We have accepted this result, and congratulate the winner Nidaa Tounes. We are calling once again for the formation of a unity government in the interest of the country." Ennahda is a moderate Islamist party. In the campaign the party claimed to have learned from its past mistakes, but Nidaa Tounes pointed out that in government the party had mismanaged the economy and failed to control hardline radical Islamists who were blamed for the murder of two liberal politicians.
 Ironically, many associated with the Nidaa Tounes party are officials and politicians from the Ben Ali era who now claim to be technocrats. Many no doubt do have the administrative skills the government will need, and are also still popular where they had been regional politicians. While there are many liberals and secularists in Tunisia, there are also a considerable number of adherents of militant Islam. As long ago as the 1980s, Tunisia sent jihadists to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan and almost 3,000 are estimated to be fighting now in Syria.
  Michael Willis, a North Africa expert at Oxford University, claimed that the decline in Ennahda's decline in popularity showed public discontent with the economy: “On the doorsteps, the economy was the main issue. Nidaa Tounes is seen as having the expertise to get the economy back on track.” The Muslim scholar and leader of Ennahda, Rachid Ghannouchi, said that Tunisia needed a broadly based, multiparty government of national unity to continue to consolidate its democratic institutions.

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