Tunisia’s Islamist party Ennahda accepts defeat in elections

Secular party Nidaa Tounes looks to have taken lead in second parliamentary vote since 2011 Arab spring uprising

Former Tunisian prime minister Beji Caid Essebsi,  leader of   Nidaa Tounes,  which is expected to  be  the strongest force in new  parliament.  Photograph: Samuel Aranda/The New York Times

Former Tunisian prime minister Beji Caid Essebsi, leader of Nidaa Tounes, which is expected to be the strongest force in new parliament. Photograph: Samuel Aranda/The New York Times

 

Tunisia’s Ennahda party, the first Islamist movement to secure power after the 2011 Arab spring revolts, has conceded defeat in elections that are expected to make its main secular rival the strongest force in parliament.

Official results from Sunday’s elections – the second parliamentary vote since Tunisians set off uprisings across much of the Arab world by overthrowing autocrat Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali – are still to be announced. However a senior official at Ennahda, which ruled in a coalition until it was forced to make way for a caretaker government during a political crisis at the start of this year, acknowledged defeat by the secular Nidaa Tounes party.

“We have accepted this result and congratulate the winner,” Lotfi Zitoun, an Ennahda party official, told Reuters. Mr Zitoun said the party reiterated its call for a unity government, including Ennahda, in the interest of the country. Earlier, an Ennahda source said preliminary tallies showed Nidaa Tounes had won 80 seats in the 217-member assembly, ahead of the 67 secured by Ennahda.

The Nidaa Tounes leader, Beji Caid Essebsi, had already said on Sunday night that there were “positive indications” his party was ahead.

Defeat is a huge setback for the Islamists of Ennahda, who headed a coalition government with two non-religious partners for more than two years after winning the election for the constituent assembly, the precursor to the new parliament, in October 2011.

North Africa expert Michael Willis, a fellow of St Antony’s College, Oxford University, said the decline in Ennahda’s electoral popularity reflected public discontent with their handling of the economy. “On the doorsteps, the economy was the main issue. Nidaa Tounes is seen as having the expertise to get the economy back on track.” – (Guardian service)