Voting in Tunisia’s first free elections since former President Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali fled to sanctuary in Saudi Arabia continued until late on Sunday night. With a turnout of 90 percent, Tunisians demonstrated their eagerness to involve themselves in the democratic process. Tunisians had the choice of 11,000 candidates and 80 political parties, but as the votes began to be counted early forecasts point to victory for Ennahda.
Ennahda has positioned itself as a moderate Islamist party, assuring voters that it has no intention of imposing Muslim values on Tunisians. Nevertheless many Tunisians remain concerned that a victory for Ennahda could result in the erosion of secularism, of which Tunisia has a long tradition.
Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of Ennahda, has spent 22 years in exile in Britain following Ben Ali’s ban on the party. According to Reuters “Experts on Islamist movements say “Ennahda’s ideology is more moderate than that of groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood”
and Ghannouchi compares Ennahda to Turkey’s AK party.
reported that Ennahda has received 50 percent of the vote from the Tunisian diaspora. A small group of voters heckled Ghannouchi as he left the polling station where he cast his vote. They shouted "You are a terrorist and an assassin! Go back to London!" as they expressed their unease at the thought of changes which an Islamic party could bring.
Ennahda appears far less extreme than Walid, who represents the Salafist school of Islam in Tunisia. Walid favors extreme Islamic rule, saying
“We want to respect our religion and to apply Islamic law in our country. We want Islamic schools all over the country … We do not want our women prevented from wearing the hijab and niqab. We would like our country to be an Islamic country that does not allow taboo things, like wine.” (Reuters)
According to Alarabiya
the intentions of Ennahda are not clear but it notes that
“illustrating the party’s contradictions, many of the books on sale on the fringes of the rally (final election rally) were by Salafist writers who believe women should be segregated from men in public and that elections are un-Islamic.”
As the votes continue to be counted it has been revealed that the final result of the election will not be released until Tuesday. It is widely expected that if Ennahda do take the lead it will inevitably influence voters in Egypt and Libya when it is their turn to cast their votes in their own elections.