Moderate Islamists Win the Most Seats in Fractured Tunisian Vote

(Bloomberg) -- Tunisia’s moderate Islamist party won the most seats in parliamentary elections but will still face an uphill task of cobbling together a governing coalition in a deeply polarized nation that’s fed up with politicians.

Ennahda secured 52 seats in the 217-member parliament, the election commission announced late Wednesday. In second place with 38 lawmakers was Heart of Tunisia, the party of controversial media mogul Nabil Karoui. Other parties and coalitions were significantly behind.

With no group anywhere near a majority, the rankings were fairly close to those in an exit poll published after voting finished Sunday and illustrated, once again, Tunisians’ deep frustration with mainstream parties.

Although the North African country has made solid democratic gains since President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s 2011 ouster, many of its 11.5 million people say the government has failed to improve their lives. Sporadic militant attacks have battered the vital tourism sector, while disputes with unions are stalling the enactment of International Monetary Fund-backed economic reforms.

Tunisians already gave the political class a bloody nose. Spurning the prime minister, defense minister and Ennahda’s deputy leader, voters in the Sept. 15 presidential election instead chose outsiders: law professor Kais Saied and Karoui, a self-proclaimed champion of the poor.

Winning Allies

Karoui was jailed for about six weeks on graft allegations he denies before being released on Wednesday. A runoff ballot between the two is due Oct. 13.

For Ennahda, which says it has abandoned political Islam to become a mainstream conservative party, the challenge now is to win enough allies for a working majority in parliament. Karoui’s recently formed party has refused to join forces, while smaller blocs may demand serious concessions.

Third place in the vote went to the Democratic Current, which took 22 seats, while the Dignity Coalition won 21. Tahya Tounes, the party led by current Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, secured 14. After appeals are heard and the results finalized, the largest party has two months to form a government.

Ennahda, which has long been dogged by claims it plans to subvert Tunisia’s modern history of secularism, won’t be able to repeat its previous alliance with Nidaa Tounes, formerly one of the country’s leading parties. It won just three seats, down from 86 in the 2014 legislative vote.

Tahya, which split from Nidaa, says it isn’t interested in a coalition and has urged the winning parties to “assume their responsibilities, form a government and hurry up in finding solutions.”

About 41.7% of Tunisia’s more than 7 million registered voters cast a ballot, according to the election commission.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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