Amid rejoicing – and with few security incidents – Tunisian voters turned out in record numbers on Sunday to cast ballots for members of the constituent assembly mandated with drawing up a new national constitution within one year.
Midway through Election Day, Amin Al-Halwani, chairman of the Independent Committee to Oversee Elections, told reporters that voter turnout had exceeded all expectations, going on to predict that overall turnout could reach as high as 60 per cent of Tunisia’s eligible voters. He added that high voter turnout had caused voting delays in several areas.
Al-Halwani pointed to a handful of “minor violations,” mostly due to continued campaigning on the part of some candidates.
Al-Halwani, general coordinator of the largest network of local election monitors, told Ahram Online that his teams had recorded some incidents of vote buying – a common practice in the Bin Ali era – especially in poor and rural areas.
“As soon as voting stations opened at 7am, I went to vote in my district in Al-Marsa,” Ayyad bin Ashour, chairman of the Supreme Committee for Achieving the Goals of the Revolution, told Ahram Online by telephone. “I found 200 out of the registered 800 voters already waiting to cast their ballots.”
“If voting continues this way, we should be very optimistic,” he added. “More important than good organisation and turnout is the sense of pride in voting for the first time in truly free, multi-party elections. Today feels like a rebirth.”
Ahram Online toured the Tunis 2 and Eryana districts (15 kilometres outside the capital), where voter queues stretched far outside balloting stations.
Zaara Al-Awni, an elderly woman who never cast a ballot before, explained that she had never voted during the Bourqeba period, since Tunisians were at that time granted all of their rights. Under deposed President Bin Ali, by contrast, citizens’ rights were usurped and voting was pointless, she added.
At balloting stations visited by Ahram Online in both districts, there were only election monitors for the Islamist Nahda Party, indicating the power of the party that is widely expected to constitute the largest bloc in the constituent assembly.
Preliminary results of the polling – which features 1,500 party and independent electoral lists vying for 219 seats in parliament – will likely be announced early on Sunday. As for final results, these will probably be announced Wednesday, after ballots are counted and polling disputes settled.
Tunisians woke up on Saturday morning to a promise by Interim President Fouad Al-Mobzie that he would hand over power to whoever was elected, irrespective of their political orientation.
Tunisia’s elections are being contested by three main players: the Islamist Nahda Party; centrist parties led by the Takatul [Bloc] and Progressive Democratic parties; and the leftist bloc led by The Tajdeed (formerly Communist) Party.