Islamists concede defeat in Tunisia’s historic vote

The secular Nidaa Tounes party claims winning 80 seats against 67 to Islamist Ennahda

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Tunisia’s Islamist Ennahda party on Monday conceded defeat to the secular Nidaa Tounes (Call of Tunisia) party in the country’s historic parliamentary elections and called for a coalition government.

“We have accepted this result, and congratulate the winner Nidaa Tounes,” Ennahda official, Lotfi Zitoun, told Reuters. However, he repeated the party's call for a new coalition including Ennahda. “We are calling once again for the formation of a unity government in the interest of the country.”

Earlier, a source from Nidaa Tounes claimed victory saying the secular party has won more than 80 seats in the new 217-member parliament against 67 seatch for Ennahda.

“According to the information we have, we should have around 80 seats,” Aida Klibi, a party spokeswoman, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying.

The assertion was based in part on exit polls conducted by two Tunisian polling companies giving Call of Tunisia 37 percent of the seats compared to 26 percent for the moderate Islamist Ennahda, which had dominated previous elections.

If the polls are confirmed by the election commission, it would be a dramatic reversal for Ennahda, which had held 42 percent of the seats in the interim parliament and ruled the country for two stormy years in a coalition with two other liberal parties.

Ennahda acknowledged that Nida Tunis “probably” won more seats than any other party, but said information about the results was still flowing in.

“We have a picture forming and we are not as optimistic as last night,” said Yusra Ghannouchi, a spokeswoman for the party, according to Associated Press.

The election, in which 60 percent of Tunisia’s 5.2 million registered voters participated, will produce the nation’s first five-year parliament following the country’s 2011 Arab Spring revolt. Presidential elections are set for late November.

Created as an explicit counter balance to the Islamists after their 2011 election victory, Nida Tunis includes businessmen, trade unionists and many politicians from the deposed dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s government.

They seek to evoke the heritage of Tunisia’s first post-independence president, Habib Bourguiba, with his focus on education and modernization, while playing down the one-party state that Tunisia had been for half a century.

During the two years the Ennahda-led government held power, the country was battered by rising inflation, a weak economy and the growing power of radical Islamists that mounted attacks on politicians and soldiers.

The party was criticized for not solving economy problems and being too soft on radicals.

While the Islamist-led government eventually stepped down at the end of 2013 in favor of a technocratic Cabinet, it did oversee the passing of a new constitution described as the most progressive in the region.

[With AP and Reuters]