Ennahda leads early Tunisia poll returns
By Monia Ghanmi and Houda Trabelsi for Magharebia in Tunis – 24/10/11
Official results from Tunisia's historic Constituent Assembly elections are not expected until Tuesday (October 25th), but according to preliminary tallies obtained by Mosaique FM, moderate Islamist party Ennahda already maintains a strong lead.
Millions of Tunisians participated in the nation's first free democratic vote on Sunday, with heavy turnout exceeding expectations according to Kamel Jendoubi, president of the Independent High Electoral Commission (ISIE).
"It was not possible for Tunisians to celebrate the revolution on January 14th, the date of Ben Ali stepped down, but they are doing so today by voting en masse," Jendoubi said at a Sunday press conference.
"We have made the polling day a day of celebration," he added.
More than 90% of the 4.1 million registered voters, roughly half of those eligible, cast their ballots, according to Boubaker Bethabet, ISIE secretary-general. Figures for the 3.1 million voters who did not register but also had the right to vote were not available, according to AFP.
Interim President Foued Mebazza described the large turnout at the polls as "great", saying that October 23rd was a historic day. He added that he hopes the election opens up new prospects for all Tunisians and contributes to a better future.
"Since January 14th, responsibility has rested more on the government and the President of the Republic. Today, the responsibility is the responsibility of the people to continue the march," Mebazza said after casting his ballot.
Interim Tunisian Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi echoed Mebazza's optimistic tone after casting his own vote. "The Tunisian people are writing a new page dividing between two eras—a page they can boast of among liberated and developed nations, as a state aspiring to democratic governance," he said.
"Today is a historic day in which the Tunisian people are exercising their sovereignty in electing representatives of the assembly. It is an entitlement the people won through their struggle and the sacrifices of their people," the prime minister added.
Tunisians for their part largely praised the work of Caid Essebsi's interim government given the circumstances. "I think the prime minister was able to steer Tunisia to safety," said Young Anis Belayeb, 33. He added that "the interim government made mistakes, but generally they are not considered serious".
Journalist Samir Jarray told Magharebia that the prime minister "put forth a good intention of making the electoral process a success".
Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi welcomed the election, describing it as a historic event in the history of Tunisia and the Arab world.
"I am 70 years old, and this is my first time voting," Ghannouchi said. "The Tunisian people are aware of the seriousness of the electoral process, and the people who made the revolution are keen to build democracy."
Across the country Tunisians of all ages and social classes turned out in large numbers beginning in the early morning hours on Sunday to perform their duty to vote amid feelings of joy and pride.
Thousands of voters lined up in front of the 7,213 polling stations, while Tunisian and foreign observers were distributed among the auditoriums of the various polling stations. Observers surveyed the polling stations and verified ballot boxes and ballots before voting, which began at seven in the morning local time.
More than 5,500 observers, including 500 foreigners, monitored the election. The election will determine the 217 members of the Constituent Assembly, which will then be tasked with writing Tunisia's new constitution.
At a polling station in Ben Arous, student Aymen Youssfi said he was voting for the first time in his life. "I feel indescribable joy. Today I voted freely and will offer my vote to those I want without any pressure or threats," he said.
Meanwhile, Amina Louati, 50, was optimistic about the results of the elections and believes that they will be the first fair and transparent elections the country has known, adding that Tunisia will succeed in its transition to democracy.
"For the first time we trust the election because everyone is convinced that their vote will determine the fate of Tunisia, which we want to be free and democratic, and will build their future and the future of their children," Louati said.
But the strong youth turnout did not hide notable participation by the elderly of both sexes, who insisted on waiting for their turn to vote despite hot weather and long lines.
"This is my first time taking part in the elections, because I believe they are real elections and their results will not be forged for the benefit of a particular party," said 72-year-old Abd Hakim Rayssi.
Salem Bouazizi, the brother of Mohamed Bouazizi, whose self-immolation sparked the revolution, cast his first democratic vote in the southern town of Sfax at the age of 31.
"His sacrifice was not in vain. We have continued his work and I am proud to be Tunisian today," Bouazizi told AFP.
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