(Updates with analyst’s comment in fourth paragraph.)
Oct. 27 (Bloomberg) -- Tunisia’s Islamist Ennahdha party has taken more than 40 percent of the seats in areas where the tally of votes for the constituent assembly is complete.
Ennahdha won 61 of the 153 domestic seats and nine of the 18 mandates for voters abroad, according to partial results from the country’s elections commission. Ennahdha, banned until six months ago, said two days after the Oct. 23 elections that it had won 40 percent of the seats. Complete results for the assembly’s 217 seats are expected to be released today.
Tunisia’s vote for the assembly that will write a new constitution is widely seen as a test of democratization efforts in the region. The country’s overthrow of the president this year inspired similar revolts across the Middle East and North Africa, leading to the ouster of rulers in Libya and Egypt and unrest in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen. More than 90 percent of Tunisia’s 4.1 million registered voters cast ballots.
“Ennahdha’s victory represents a break with the past in all its forms,” said Jamal Arfaoui, a Tunisian political analyst. “Ennahdha is intelligent enough not to get involved alone in portfolios like employment, education and regional development. It will cooperate with a large number of ministers so as not to bear the responsibility alone.”
The party has said it started consultations to form a unity government and that no group will be excluded from talks. The party’s secretary-general, Hamadi Jbeli, has said that he will be its candidate for prime minister.
Ennahdha’s leaders said they have had negotiations with secular parties such as Ettakatol and the Congress for the Republic. How the Islamic group and secular parties work together may provide a template for other Arab countries, such as Egypt, where Islamists are expected to make a strong showing in upcoming elections. Libya’s new rulers have spoken of following Islamic law, while in Egypt the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood has set up a leading political party.
Ennahdha’s leaders say they have a moderate interpretation of Islamic law. The party supports religious freedom for all, they say, and won’t touch Tunisia’s family law, which in the 1950s abolished polygamy and gave women equal rights with men, including for divorce.
A smooth transition to democracy may help Tunisia revive an economy that isn’t expected to grow this year, according to the government. Gross domestic product will expand 4 percent in 2012 and 5.2 percent in 2013, more than other Arab countries that experienced uprisings, according to International Monetary Fund forecasts.
--Editors: Heather Langan, Eddie Buckle
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