Islamist party celebrates Tunisian poll win, begins organizing coalition gov’t

By Mariette le Roux ,AFP

TUNIS — Tunisia’s Islamist Ennahda party got to work Friday on forming a coalition government after winning a strong mandate in the Arab Spring’s first elections. But as victory celebrations were underway, its offices in Sidi Bouzid, the birthplace of the Tunisian revolution, were targeted by youths upset after candidates belonging to rival party were disqualified by election authorities. Late-night results showed Ennahda, banned under dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, took 90 of the 217 seats, or 41.47 percent, in an assembly that will rewrite the constitution and appoint a president and a caretaker government. The historic polls nine months after Ben Ali’s ouster, saw the Congress for the Republic (CPR) and Ettakatol emerge as the biggest parties on the splintered left, with 30 and 21 seats respectively. Both have said they were in coalition talks with Ennahda.

Fourth place, with 19 seats, went to the Petition for Justice and Development, a grouping of independents led by Hechmi Haamdi, a rich London-based businessman said to have close ties to Ben Ali.

This despite the invalidation of six of its candidates’ lists, including those in Sidi Bouzid in central Tunisia. Haamdi later withdrew from the assembly in protest. The invalidation announcement triggered violent protests in Sidi Bouzid, where an unemployed university graduate set himself on fire in December and sparked the Tunisian uprising that launched region-wide revolts. Large crowds marching on the Ennahda party headquarters in the town overnight where they threw stones at police and burnt tires in the street, witnesses and officials said. Several public buildings were vandalized but calm had returned by the early morning hours though schools, public buildings and businesses remained closed, an AFP correspondent said.