Final Tunisian poll results due Thursday; counting delayed by technical glitches

Results for Tunisia’s first-ever free election were scheduled to be released on Tuesday, but now will be released on Thursday afternoon. (Reuters)

Final results Thursday should confirm victory in Tunisia’s first-ever free election for the Islamist Ennahda party that appeared set to take power after the Arab Spring's first democratic test.

Results, initially due Tuesday, would now be released on Thursday afternoon, the ISIE electoral commission said.

Counting had been delayed by technical glitches and the unexpectedly large number of voters who turned out for Sunday’s elections for a new 217-member assembly that will rewrite the constitution and form a caretaker government.

Ennahda vowed Wednesday to form a new government within a month as preliminary results gave it a commanding lead, but not a majority, in Tunisia's first election without a predetermined result.

As coalition negotiations got under way in earnest, the biggest secular party defended its negotiations with Ennahda, saying the Islamist party was neither the devil nor the Taliban.

“No, no, no it is not the devil and we do not make pacts with the devil,” Congress for the Republic (CPR) leader Moncef Marzouki told reporters in Tunis Wednesday.

“One must not take them for the Taliban of Tunisia. It is a moderate part of Islam.”

Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi said a preliminary vote tally that put it in the clear lead with 53 seats of the polling districts counted so far, made the party the “natural” choice to lead the new executive.

The CPR was the second-placed party with 18 seats on the assembly that will rewrite the constitution, appoint a caretaker government and prepare for fresh elections.

As the names of presidential candidates started circulating in the media, including Marzouki, current interim Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi, and Ettakatol leftist party leader Mustapha Ben Jafaar, the country appeared headed for complicated coalition negotiations.

Ghannouchi said Wednesday that a government would be put together as soon as possible, “within no more than a month.”

And Ennahda put forward its number two, 63-year-old party co-founder Hamadi Jebali, as the next prime minister.

The new assembly will decide on the country's system of government and how to guarantee basic liberties, including women's rights, which many in Tunisia fear Ennahda would seek to diminish despite its assurances to the contrary.

Analysts say that Ennahda, even in a majority alliance, would be unable to "dictate" its program to the assembly, having no choice but to appease its alliance partners, a moderate-minded society, and the international community on whose investment and tourism the country relies heavily.

Leftist parties may yet seek to form a majority bloc against Ennahda.

Even before the official results are known, Ennahda has sought to reassure investors of stability and women that it will respect their equality, and said it was open to a coalition with any party “without exception.”

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