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Can Islamists share power with secularists? Tunisia is about to find out.

Two secular parties look set to join Tunisia's dominant Islamist Al Nahda party in an alliance that would collectively represent as much as 60 percent of the vote in Sunday's election.

By Elizabeth DickinsonCorrespondent / October 26, 2011

Tunisian supporters of the Islamic party Al Nahda celebrate as they claim victory at the party's headquarters in Tunis, Tuesday. Al Nahda failed to win an outright majority, meaning a coalition could be formed with two center-left parties. (Note the new Libyan flag on the right.)

Benjamin Girette/AP

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Tunis

With full results of Tunisia's first-ever democratic election expected as soon as tomorrow, two secular parties looked poised to join the Islamist Al Nahda party in an alliance that could guide the country's political transition with a decisive majority.

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The alliance of the Islamist party with center-left parties Congrès pour le République (CPR) and Ettekatol would represent approximately 60 percent of the vote, according to individual party estimates.

With a clear majority and a diverse range of views, the coalition could bring considerable legitimacy to the two chief tasks of Tunisia's post-revolution government: drafting a new constitution and nominating a caretaker administration.

Should the coalition come to fruition, it would represent a victory for both the Islamists and the secular-leaning parties, as each would have a decisive voice in the drafting of Tunisia's next steps. Throughout the campaign, Tunisians on both the Islamist and secular sides of the country's political spectrum have feared that their opponents would dominate, with potentially paradigm-shifting consequences for Tunisia's national character. A coalition may temper those fears; under one umbrella, compromise between these groups will be of paramount importance.

“Our priority is to build a democratic state that is irreversible,” affirms Sayid Ferjani, a member of Al Nahda's political committee, reiterating calls by the party for the last week for consensus.

Secular groups decline to form opposition bloc

Congrès pour le République (CPR) and Ettekatol say they will each claim roughly 15 percent of the vote, while Al Nahda (also spelled Ennahda) says it has more than 30 percent of the vote.

Although Al Nahda confirmed the coalition agreement to the Monitor on Monday, CPR and Ettekatol secular parties had been slower to acknowledge their negotiations, leaving open the possibility that they would instead choose to form a secular opposition group. On Tuesday evening, however, Ettakatol's president, in an interview with Belgium's Le Soir, indicated a willingness to work with Al Nahda and later confirmed to Agence-France Presse that negotiations were ongoing.

CPR's vice president Abderraouf Ayadi has also acknowledged that talks are under way, while stopping short of confirming any concrete agreement. “It's bilateral, not official, because we are waiting for the definitive results,” he told the Monitor. The party's president, Moncef Marzouki, also declined to comment on specifics, but said at a press conference today that CPR was ready to work with other political parties.

12 draft constitutions already in circulation

Once election results are finalized, the 217 victorious representatives will form a Constituent Assembly intended to draft a new constitution. One of their first tasks, however, will be to name a new government, taking over the reins from the current interim administration.

Already, the shapes of a possible coalition government are becoming clear. Al-Nahda has also said that it will present its secretary general, Hamadi Jebali, as prime minister, which could leave the presidential post available for a member of the secular parties – meaning a secular-leaning president may help guide crucial constitutional negotiations.

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