Tunisian Islamists take four of 10 seats reserved for France

AFP , Tuesday 25 Oct 2011

Tunisia's Islamist Al-Nahda party won four of 10 seats reserved for Tunisians living in France following the north African country's first free election, according to results announced Tuesday

Tunisians chant during a demonstration against the Islamist Al-Nahda movement in Tunis 24 October 2011 (Photo: Reuters)

Some 1.1 million Tunisians living abroad voted Thursday, Friday and Saturday for a constituent assembly, which is to rewrite the constitution and appoint a president to form a caretaker government until fresh polls.

Of the 18 seats reserved for Tunisians abroad, 10 are in former colonial power France, home to more than 500,000 Tunisians.

Election officials said Al-Nahda was the big winner in France's two electoral districts, taking 33.7 per cent of the vote in northern France and 30.23 per cent in the south, entitling it to four seats.

The party was followed by Moncef Marzouki's leftist nationalist CPR, which took two seats, the secular left-wing Ettakatol party with two seats and the left-wing Democratic Modernists with one seat.

Independent candidate Hechmi Haamdi, a wealthy businessman who runs the London-based Al-Mostakilla television channel, took the final seat by winning 10.17 percent of the vote in southern France.

In total, 119,468 Tunisians voted in France in the election, officials said.

Following the win, the head of Al-Nahda's party list in northern France, Ameur Larayedh, sought to dismiss fears that it has an Islamist agenda.

"We said it before and during the elections, and we are repeating it afterward, we will work with all sides, with all political forces," Larayedh told AFP. "We will be looking to guarantee all public and, especially, individual freedoms -- freedom of thought, expression and organisation."

He added: "No matter who was elected, the most important thing is the success of this election. We will for the first time have a constituent assembly that will be pluralist, which will truly represent the people."

Earlier, citing a provisional count, the Tunisian election commission said that Al-Nahda was on course to win half of the 18 seats reserved for expatriate representatives on a 217-member constituent assembly.

There were six foreign polling districts, two in France and one each in Italy, Germany, the United States and the Arab states.

Final results for Sunday's vote on home soil are due later Tuesday.

The new assembly will decide on the country's system of government and how to guarantee basic liberties, including women's rights, which many in Tunisia fear Al-Nahda would seek to diminish despite its assurances to the contrary.

It will also have interim authority to write laws and pass budgets.

Al-Nahda says it models itself on the ruling AKP party in Turkey, another Muslim-majority country which like Tunisia is a traditionally secular state.

Al-Nahda's critics have accused the party of preaching modernism in public and radicalism in the mosques.

Election officials said they would challenge Haamdi's win in southern France, saying that his electoral list included a member of the former ruling RCD party and that his television channel violated electoral media programming rules.

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