10/24/2011, 00.00
TUNISIA
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Votes counted after Tunisia’s first free election

The turnout hits the 90 per cent mark. Islamist Ennahda party leads by 35 per cent. Many fear an Islamist victory.
Tunis (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Results in Tunisia’s first free elections since the fall of Ben Ali will be made public today. Yesterday, more than 4 million people (90 per cent of all registered voters) queued up to elect the 217-seat constituent assembly, which is tasked with drafting a new constitution, appoint an interim government and prepare presidential and parliamentary elections. Despite the huge turnout, the authorities said results would be released tonight.

In January Tunisia was the first country hit by the Arab spring, which eventually swept across the entire Middle East.

The mother of Mohamed Bouazizi, the young man whose self-immolation last December triggered the Tunisian revolt, told Reuters that the election was a victory for dignity and freedom. “My son's death has given the chance to get beyond fear and injustice," Manoubia Bouazizi said.

Despite the optimism, many fear the country might drift towards extremism. Tunisia is considered the most secular-oriented nation with a Muslim majority, but media reports suggest that the Islamist Ennahda Party, or Renaissance, is poised to win about 35 per cent of the vote for the constituent assembly, drawing support especially in rural areas.

This has raised fears among secularist parties and moderate Muslims who are opposed to the inclusion of the Sharia in the constitution.

Yesterday, in the capital’s El Menzah 6th District, a crowd shouted insults at Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi, calling him a “terrorist” and an “assassin” when he went to vote with his wife.

Ghannouchi, who spent 22 years in exile in London, describes himself as a moderate and has tried to reassure the public that his party’s platform is based on respect for human rights and social and religious equality.

"I'm not so optimistic about the result of the vote," said Ziyed Tijiani, a 26-year-old architect. Accompanied by his girlfriend in jeans and T-shirt but no veil, he said the Islamists would likely win. However, the Sharia “is not want I want.” In addition, the Islamists “may try to change the way I live," he lamented.

An Ennahda victory would be the first Islamist success in the Arab world since the Hamas victory in the 2006 Palestinian vote.

It could also influence Egypt’s 29 November poll in which the Justice and Freedom Party, linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, is favoured to win.

Islamists won an election in Algeria, Tunisia’s neighbour, in199. But the Algerian army cancelled the result, sparking a civil war that cost 160,000 lives between 2992 and 2002.
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