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Secularists voice dismay at election gains for Tunisia's Islamist party

Tunisia's election results are not final, but the moderate Islamist party Al Nahda seems poised to get a plurality of the vote. Some secularists voiced alarm, even as the party sought to reassure opponents.

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“Others are circulating proof of fraud,” she continued, describing videos that began to circulate on Facebook by Monday evening. The alleged violations included some polling agents stealing ballots, vote buying both before and on election day, and unfair pressure exerted on voters already in the queue to vote. Between 300 and 400 secular-leaning protesters had gathered in front of the electoral commission by 4 p.m. today, demanding a response to alleged misconduct.

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“We are not here against any party, we are against the electoral violations that we saw committed by Al Nahda,” says Myriam Marzouki, a protester who served as an electoral observer. She says that her polling station gave preference to Al Nahda voters by allowing some who were ineligible to cast votes. “The president [of the polling station] saw the violations but said he didn't want to have any problems.”

Others at the protest, however, were more clearly frustrated with the results of the vote. “We're not happy with what happened with Al Nahda,” says Salma, a civil servant at the protest who declined to give her last name out of concern that her comments could have an impact on her work. “They utilized religion just in order to win seats. But if [Rached] Ghannouchi [the leader of the Islamist party] is our leader, it will be a war among the Tunisians.”

Other young secular activists declined to attend the protests, arguing that what was truly needed was political organization to unite the many disparate parties opposing Al Nahda. The youth supporters of all the secular parties are planning to meet next week to discuss how they can unite the various party supporters toward a common political agenda, says Ali of the Union of Independent Tunisians for Liberty.

An impressive election

Despite the concerns of some on the left, international observers uniformly agree that Tunisia's first democratic election took place in a way that was not just free and fair, but incredibly impressive.

“In such a short term, nine months, they have been able to put up extraordinary machinery,” says former Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo, a co-head of the National Democratic Institute's monitoring mission in the country. “[The electoral process] is not free of some deficiencies, but it truly is impressive.”

The national electoral commission also said at its evening press conference that no electoral violations would be used to cancel votes, unless there was proof of illegal campaign financing.

Al Nahda has 'a different discourse'

Apart from that small rally, Tunis was calm on Tuesday. Across town at the Al Nahda headquarters, the mood was both excited and heavy with the responsibility to lead in a divided political environment. If Al Nahda does indeed have a majority of seats, says Mr. Ferjani of Al Nahda's political committee, it is “problematic, because we feel that there are very high expectations on our shoulders. And we have only a few months to satisfy them.”

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