The secular Nidaa Tounes party won the largest number of seats in Tunisia’s parliamentary elections on Monday, defeating its main rival, the Islamist party Ennahda, which just three years ago swept to power as the North African nation celebrated the fall of its longtime dictator in the Arab Spring revolution.
Though just a few official results had been released on Monday night, Ennahda’s leader, Rachid Ghannouchi, called Beji Caid Essebsi, the 87-year-old leader of Nidaa Tounes, on Monday evening to congratulate him. Mr. Ghannouchi then threw a large street party for party workers outside Ennahda’s campaign headquarters, with music and fireworks.
Ennahda’s former foreign minister, Rafik Abdessalem, said that by the party’s count, Ennahda had won 69 to 73 seats, while Nidaa Tounes had most likely won 83 seats.
“We accept the result,” Mr. Abdessalem said. “There are some irregularities, but we consider we succeeded in this process to hold transparent democratic elections.”
Mr. Essebsi told French television France 24 that even though the official results were not completed, he had accepted Mr. Ghannouchi’s congratulations with appreciation. His party announced its victory on its Facebook page. “We won,” it said. “Long live Tunisia.”
The swing away from Ennahda, a large, well-organized party built along the lines of the Muslim Brotherhood with deep roots throughout the country, to Nidaa Tounes surprised many. Nidaa Tounes is a newly formed alliance of former government officials, left-wing politicians and secularists, who came together in 2012 in opposition to the Islamists. The party had appeared unorganized and divided internally, while Ennahda was known to have a committed and disciplined core of supporters.
Ennahda had won 89 seats in 2011, making it the largest party in Parliament after the revolution that overthrew the government of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. Many Tunisians at the time said they had voted for Ennahda members because of their religious profile, hoping that they would be honest and not corrupt like the Ben Ali entourage.
Many Ennahda members had emerged from prison or had returned from exile after the revolution and were afforded some sympathy. Yet they proved largely inexperienced and unable to manage the mounting instability, and alienated many by allowing a rapid spread of Islamist groups, some of which turned to violence.