Tunisia secularists win landmark vote in cradle of Arab Spring

Nidaa Tounes won 85 of 217 seats, while its Islamist rival Ennahda took 69 seat. With no outright majority, political horse-trading to form a coalition has already begun.

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TUNIS // Tunisia’s secular Nidaa Tounes won landmark parliamentary elections beating Islamist rivals in a vote that raised hopes of a peaceful transition in the birthplace of the Arab Spring.

The Nidaa Tounes, running on an explicitly anti-Islamist platform, won 85 of the 217 seats in parliament, giving it the right to name a prime minister and lead a coalition government, said the election board ISIE on Thursday.

The moderate Islamist Ennahda Party, which had previously dominated the parliament, won 69 seats – representing a loss of some 23 seats.

Since overthrowing its long-time dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 and kicking off the Arab Spring pro-democracy wave, Tunisia has been buffeted by economic turmoil and terrorist attacks.

Analysts have described Sunday’s election as a referendum on the Islamist-led coalition’s stormy two years in office and punished them for a poor economic performance and unfulfilled expectations of the revolution.

Nidaa Tounes is led by Beji Caid Essebsi, an 87-year-old veteran politician who previously served as foreign minister in the 1980s and parliament speaker in the early 1990s under later deposed Mr Ben Ali.

The party, which includes businessmen, trade unionists and politicians from the old regime, has all but ruled out forming a coalition with the Islamists, describing it as “against their nature”. It will instead turn to a collection of smaller parties to garner the necessary 109-seat majority.

* Agence France-Presse and Associated Press