Tunis. Tunisia holds its first-ever
free elections on Sunday with an Islamic party poised to win, nine months after
the surprise toppling of strongman Zine el Abidine Ben Ali that sparked the
From 7:00 a.m., some 7.2 million
eligible voters, many of them undecided to the end, can elect a 217-member
assembly that will write a new constitution after decades of autocratic
The multi-party body will also have the
loaded task of appointing an interim president and a caretaker government for
the duration of the drafting process, expected to take about a year.
Ennahda, banned under Ben Ali, is
polled to win the biggest bloc of votes in this first-ever open contest in a
country where the outcome of elections used to be a foregone conclusion.
The constituent assembly will have to
choose what type of government the country will have and how to guarantee basic
liberties, including women’s rights, which many fear Ennahda would seek to
diminish despite its assurances to the contrary.
Ennahda is accused in many quarters of
being moderate in public but radical in the mosques.
The progressive left, however, remains
divided with party leaders having failed to form a pre-vote alliance.
Ben Ali was ousted in January in a
surprise, leaderless revolt that sparked region-wide pro-democracy uprisings that
claimed their latest victim on Thursday with the killing of Muammer el-Qaddafi
of Libya, which will declare its official “liberation” on Sunday as
Tunisians go to the polls.
Unlike its neighbor, which descended
into civil war, Tunisia’s path to democracy has been mostly peaceful apart from
some protests against the pace of transformation and sporadic violent outbursts
by conservative Islamists against secularization.
Elections chief Kamel Jendoubi on
Saturday declared his ISIE polling commission “ready and confident,”
while the EU observer mission said there was “almost no chance of cheating
or falsifying results.”
Ennahda had warned of a risk of vote
rigging and vowed a fresh uprising if it detected fraud, but its leader Rached
Ghannouchi stressed at a final rally on Friday that the party would recognize
the results “no matter Ennahda’s score.”
In what is widely regarded as the Arab
Spring’s first democratic test, Tunisians can choose from more than 11,000
candidates — half of them women — representing 80 political parties and several
Vote counting will start as soon as
polling stations close at 7:00 p.m., with results updated live throughout the
The final tally will be released on