Voters sought security and stability with familiar faces from Tunisia’s more authoritarian past, but the Islamist Ennahada’s weight in parliament will make them a player in any future government.
Tunisia’s well-organised Islamists have been defeated in parliamentary elections, paying the price for the turbulent years they ruled after the Arab Spring that saw the rise of terrorist groups in this North African nation.
Voters sought security and stability with familiar faces from Tunisia’s more authoritarian past, but the Islamists’ substantial weight in the new parliament will make them a player in any future government.
Results from the official election commission are just beginning to trickle in, with only three Tunisian districts reported by Tuesday morning. But exit polling and statistical sampling of voting station results by observer groups have produced a remarkably uniform picture.
The party Nidaa Tounes (Tunisia Calls) led by an 87-year-old veteran politician from the previous regime took around 35 per cent of the seats of the parliament, giving it the right to present a prime minister and form a governing coalition. The Islamists trailed with just 25 per cent of the seats.
Nidaa Tounes presented itself as the answer to the moderate Islamists of the Ennahda Party, which had struggled to guide the country through post-revolutionary turmoil after dominating the 2011 elections. Critics charged the Islamists with being soft on terrorists and incompetent managers.
“I promise only one thing and that is to re-establish the state,” Beji Caid Essebsi, the founder of Nidaa Tounes, said in an interview on national TV late Monday. “All our problems resulted from the lack of a state.”
Mr. Essebsi was a Foreign Minister in the 1980s, under the country’s first post-independent president Habib Bourguiba, and was briefly interim Prime Minister in 2011, after the revolution. Mr. Essebsi evokes the good old days of Tunisia, with a strong economy and a focus on education while ignoring its authoritarian aspects.
The party effectively tapped into voters’ fear of instability, as food prices put a strain on the middle class and the assassination of left-wing politicians and militant attacks in the mountains struck fear into ordinary Tunisians.