Tunisia’s final election results confirmed the victory of an Islamist party, giving it a major say in the country’s new government and future constitution, the election commission announced Monday.
The final results for the Oct. 23 contests give the once-banned Ennahda Party 89 out of 217 seats, more than triple the next biggest vote getter.
In polls described by international observers as free and fair, Tunisians elected an assembly that will write the fledgling democracy’s new constitution and appoint an interim government ahead of new elections in the next year or so.
Tunisia is known in the Arab world for its comparatively secular outlook and progressive legislation on women’s rights, but Ennahda triumphed through superior organization and a reputation for confronting the previous regime.
The elections were held nine months after Tunisians overthrew President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who ruled with an iron fist for the past 23 years.
Out of a potential electorate of 7.5 million voters, 54 percent participated in the election - pretty much all of those who had registered.
The Tunisian uprising inspired similar pro-democracy movements elsewhere around the region, setting off what has been called the Arab Spring in the Middle East.
Ennahda’s victory is expected to inspire Islamist parties competing in elections elsewhere, including Egypt and Morocco in the coming weeks. Ennahda, however, is much less conservative that other Islamist parties around the region and has pledged to respect the country’s progressive legislation supporting women’s rights.
The new body will have its first meeting on Nov. 22.
The liberal Congress for the Republic, led by veteran human rights activist Moncef Marzouki came in second with 29 seats. The party is expected to join Ennahda in a ruling coalition.
In third place with 26 seats was the Popular Petition, led by wealthy media mogul Hachemi Hamdi, based in London and owner of the Mustaqila satellite station.
The party originally had seven seats taken from them for campaign funding irregularities, but won them back in court. Hamdi is a new face to Tunisian politics and his exact ideology is not clear.
In fourth place came the left of center Ettakatol or Forum party with 20 seats.
Two parties that ran anti-Islamist campaigns targeting Ennahda, the left of center Progressive Democratic Party and the left wing Modern Democratic Axis, did poorly with 16 and 5 seats respectively.
The remaining seats went to a series of smaller parties and independent candidates.
Election head Kamel Jendoubi said the commission had “clearly contributed to restoring the trust of Tunisians in their electoral process,” despite only having four months to get it together and no tradition of fair elections.
He added that he was going to ask the new assembly to make the election commission a permanent feature to manage future contests.
“We must preserve this achievement which will guarantee the rotation of power in coming elections,” he said.