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Islamist party sweeps Tunisian election

Tunisia’s main Islamist party emerged officially victorious in the Arab Spring’s first elections, taking 90 of 217 seats in the new assembly nine months after the ouster of dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.

Violent protests broke out in the central town of Sidi Bouzid, where the uprising started last December, after the provisional results were announced, witnesses and the interior ministry said.

The Islamist Ennahda party now has the single-biggest share of the assembly that will rewrite the Constitution, appoint a President and form a caretaker government, elections chief Kamel Jendoubi told journalists in Tunis.

He also announced the invalidation of six candidates’ lists of the Petition for Justice and Development, including one in Sidi Bouzid, notably due to “financial irregularities”.

The group, led by Hechmi Haamdi, a rich London-based businessman, said to have close ties to Ben Ali, still managed fourth place with 19 assembly seats.

Following the announcement of the invalidations, however, Mr Haamdi said he was withdrawing his candidates from the assembly.

Mr Haamdi had campaigned from London via his satellite television station al-Mustakilla.

In one broadcast earlier on Thursday, he said he “feared” his supporters would display anger after Ennahda refused to include his grouping in negotiations to form a new government.

Witnesses said more than 2,000 young people marched on Ennahda’s headquarters in Sidi Bouzid when the results were announced and pelted security forces with stones. An AFP correspondent said they broke doors and windows of the Ennahda building and burnt tyres on the town’s main road.

According to the TAP news agency, “acts of destruction and pillaging also took place at the municipality”.

Witnesses reported a similar protest in the town of Regueb, some 50 kilometres from Sidi Bouzid, where a gunshot was fired at an Ennahda office.

On the main road in the capital Tunis however, the results were met with a cacophony of car hooters blaring, as people hung out of car windows singing and waving Ennahda and Tunisian flags.

The provisional results put two leftist parties in second and third place after Sunday’s historic polls: the Congress for the Republic obtaining 30 seats, and Ettakatol 21 seats.

The ISIE electoral commission said political groups had two days to lodge challenges to the results.

Ennahda was banned under Ben Ali’s regime and only registered as a political party in March.

The party, which presents itself as having a moderate Islamist agenda, has put forward Ennahda’s number two, Hamadi Jebali, as candidate for Prime Minister.

The new assembly will determine 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 have said that Ennahda, even in a majority alliance, would be unable to “dictate” any programme to the assembly.

It will have to appease its coalition partners, a moderate-minded society, and the international community on whose investment and tourism the country relies heavily, they argue.

Ennahda said it had met bankers and stockbrokers earlier on Thursday to reassure them.

Programme points of the main parties

Tunisian voters have entrusted five main political groupings with the task of plotting the country’s democratic future on a 217-member assembly that will rewrite the Constitution and appoint a caretaker government. Here are their main programme points:

Ennahda

The Islamist party banned under the former regime got 90 assembly seats.

The party makes no reference in its election programme to Islamic Sharia law, which its leader Rached Ghannouchi propagated in the 1970s as a way of addressing societal “depravation”.

Instead, the document cites “moderate Islam” as its reference point, and commits the party to respecting religious and minority freedoms. It guarantees women’s equal right to work and vote and vows to “oppose any compulsion to adopt a specific pattern of dress”.

It also seeks to allow women “to contribute to the development of society, free from the obstructions of decadence”. Vowing to tackle corruption, the party supports a republican system of government with a one-chamber Parliament that will elect a President for a five-year term, renewable once.

Ennahda promises social housing, broader access to health care, bigger social grants and a higher minimum wage. On the economy, Ennahda pledges to create 590,000 jobs and reduce the unemployment rate to 8.5 per cent by 2016 from the current 19 per cent.

It wants an economic growth rate of eight per cent (compared to -3% in the first quarter of 2011), partly through promoting tourism.

The Congress for the Republic (CPR)

Under the leadership of Moncef Marzouki, the previously banned leftist, nationalist party promises a socialist approach: stronger control over the banks, a redistribution of wealth, the creation of agricultural cooperatives and lower VAT. It won 30 assembly seats.

The party’s programme seeks a stronger role for the state in the economy, while guaranteeing an independent judiciary, the protection of civil liberties and gender equality. It supports the Palestinian cause and promotes a fight against “savage globalisation” in favour of “just and equal development”. Like all other parties on the left, it supports a system of government in which both the President and Parliament are directly elected.

Ettakatol

Led by Mustapha Ben Jaafar, who has declared his Presidential ambitions, the party seeks a stronger regulatory role for the state. It promises the creation of 100,000 jobs in 2012-13, partly through expanded public works programmes. It has prioritised the eradication of regional differences between cities on the coast and the poorer, inland areas long overlooked for investment by the state.

Ettakatol took 21 seats.

The Popular Petition for Justice and Development: A grouping backed by Hechmi Haamdi, a rich London-based businessman, said to have close ties to ousted dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. The big surprise of the election – it arrived in fourth place with 19 seats despite the invalidation of its candidates’ lists in six polling districts notably over “financial irregularities”. The invalidation prompted Mr Haamdi to withdraw all his candidates from the assembly.

The grouping’s campaign prog-ramme promises free health care and public transport, a reduction in the bread price, and grants for the unemployed in exchange for community service. The campaign was run from London via Mr Haamdi’s satellite TV station al-Mustakilla, broadcast in Tunisia.

Progressive Democratic Party (PDP)

Polled in second place before the election, it came fifth with 17 seats. The PDP was the only party led by a woman, Maya Jribi. It proposes a “modern vision of Islam” and wants an education system that will “purge” society of “obscure and oppressive practices”. The party campaigned as a rampart against the Islamists.

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