Tunisia election: Smiles, pride as historic day goes smoothly
Tunisians turned out in droves to vote in the Arab Spring's first democratic election today. Early indications were that voting went smoothly throughout most of the country.
Residents of Tunis awoke this morning to a city decorated in flags, the red and white national colors draped along every street large enough for two cars to pass.Skip to next paragraph
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Every few blocks, elementary schools had been transformed into voting stations, marked by a single flag and posters explaining how to cast a ballot in the country's first-ever democratic election. And almost as soon as the sun rose, Tunisians started making their way to vote.
“I'm so proud to be a Tunisian!” said Mabruka Alaib, exiting a polling station in the working class neighborhood of Jbel Lahmar.
“I'm so happy,” agrees Sameer Ibrahim, also leaving the station. “You know, this is the first time we vote.”
The voting here in Jebl Lahmar – a city racked by protests just last week – took place amid an orderly calm. Ibrahim finished the entire process in a mere 10 minutes.
Voting was orderly and calm, say observers
By and large, this was the experience across Tunisia, say election observers: the mood in polling stations is europhic, and aside from a few minor slip ups, the voting is taking place with impressive technical ease.
“People were very orderly, very patient, they stood in line and they were really straight lines!” says Marwan Muasher, a leader of the National Democratic Institute's observation mission and a former foreign minister of Jordan. “The sun is out now and it is hot, and yet it really struck me: There are a lot of smiley faces."
Tunisians are casting their ballots for a 217-member Constituent Assembly, a body that will draft a new constitution and appoint a new caretaker government. As the first elections of the Arab Spring, analysts believe today's vote will be a test of the country and the region's ability to transform popular protests into concrete democratic change.
There are about 80 political parties, plus a number of independents, contesting in these first democratic elections.
Islamist party primed to do well
The moderate Islamist Nahda party is by far the largest of these; estimates based on public polling have put its expected share of the vote at between 25 and 50 percent. Other parties expected to claim between five and 15 percent of votes include the secular Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), the Democratic Federation for Labor and Liberty (Ettakatol), the Congress for the Republic (CPR) and the Modern Democratic Pole (PDM), among others.
It is difficult to predict exactly what the results will look like beyond these estimates however, not least because 40 percent of voters were undecided when the most recent poll was conducted in September.
Turnout better than predicted
With so much up in the air, turnout is expected to have a large impact on the results of the vote, and it appeared strong early in the day, though observers cautioned it was too early to tell.
Still, impressed by the long lines forming throughout polling stations across the country, by early-afternoon, the president of the country's Independent High Authority for Elections, Kamel Jendoubi, told journalists that “the massive turnout of Tunisians to the polls has beaten all predictions.”
“The number of voters is so impressive – we've never had anything like it before,” said Mohammed Bennour, a spokesman for Ettakatol. “Under [deposed dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali], they always said turnout was 90 percent. But if that was 90 percent, then today is 1,000 percent.”