By Ivan Watson and Kindah Shair
Posted: Tue October 25, 2011 4:41 PM EST
Official results have yet to be published, but preliminary returns appear to show that the once-banned moderate Islamist party Ennahda has won Tunisia’s historic elections, according to several political parties and Tunisian media outlets.
The front page of El Maghreb newspaper showed a giant photo of Ennahda leader Rachid Ghanouchi next to a saluting member of the presidential guard, with the caption “Ennahda close to the government?”
Meanwhile, the French-language daily Le Temps depicted a presidential throne on a pillar carrying the Ennahda logo, followed by smaller chairs atop two smaller columns labeled with the secular parties Congres pour la Republique (CPR) and Ettakatol.
Boubaker Bethabet, secretary-general of the Independent High Authority for the Election, told reporters at a news conference Tuesday afternoon that preliminary results were available for five districts. Of the 39 seats available in those districts, Ennahda took 15, CPR took six and Ettakatol took four. Those results still must be certified, he said.
Representatives from all three parties told CNN their own preliminary results showed that Ennahda captured first place, followed by CPR and Ettakatol. The parties were already looking forward to the possibility of establishing a governing coalition in the future 217-seat Constituent Assembly.
“It’s possible … I hope we can put a coalition of this type together,” said CPR leader Moncef Marzouki, when asked about the possibility of establishing a coalition of the three apparent front-runners.
Marzouki said Tunisians had demonstrated in the country’s first free election in modern history their vision for the future of the country.
“Tunisians want centrist politics,” he said. “They want an Arab-Muslim identity (Ennahda) and also democracy and human rights represented by the two parties CPR and Ettakatol.”
The vote was historic not only in Tunisia — which, until now, hadn’t had a national election since it became independent in 1956 and for 23 years was ruled by Zine El Abidine Ben Ali — but also in the region and the world. Since Ali was ousted in January — a month after 26-year-old street vendor Muhammad Al Bouazizi set himself afire after a police officer seized his goods — residents in several other Arab nations have similarly rallied for democratic reforms and against their leaders, many of whom held power for decades and allowed little dissent.
Mohamed Kamez Jendoubi, the head of the country’s election commission, said Monday that more than 80% of the North African nation’s registered voters cast ballots Sunday. According to Tunisia Afrique Presse, 4,100,812 people registered to vote prior to the election in a country of more than 10 million. But Jendoubi said many unregistered voters — “mostly youth and women” — showed up Sunday for last-minute registration.
As early as Monday night, top Ennahda party officials were already celebrating CPR and Ettakatol’s expected second and third place finishes in the vote count.
Read More: CNN.com