Moderate Islamists took the lead in the first Arab Spring elections in Tunisia, according to early results, with international observers applauding the vote as a model for the region. Final results are expected Tuesday.
Provisional results put the moderate Islamist Ennahdha party well in the lead, with about 40 percent of the vote. According to media outlets and political parties, leftist parties are trailing well behind. But it appears Ennahdha, as many observers predicted, has failed to capture the majority of votes.
Journalists packed Ennahdha headquarters in Tunis. Female supporters ululated in joy. Senior Ennahdha official Said Ferjani said his party wants to work with its more secular rivals. "Tunisia now needs a national unity government. There is no question about that. We said that before and we reiterate it, irrespective of whom," he said.
The 217 members of Tunisia's new Constituent Assembly will be tasked with drafting a new constitution and a roadmap for the future. They will also appoint a caretaker government.
At a news conference on Monday, former Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo was among a number of international observers who hailed Tunisia's first democratic vote as not only free and fair but exemplary. "The minor administrative deficiencies that might have been noticed is enormously compensated by what constituted an extraordinary achievement in a milestone, so short after emerging from a decade of authoritarian rule," he said.
Election observers predict that women may capture nearly a third of the seats in the new constituent assembly, a far larger proportion than in any Arab country and many Western ones.