Tunisia's Islamists lead the way in local election

Exit polls in Tunisia’s legislative elections show the Ennahda party with slim lead over party led by detained business tycoon.

Elad Benari ,

Polling station in Tunis
Polling station in Tunis

Exit polls in Tunisia’s legislative elections showed an established Islamist-inspired party leading the way, AFP reports.

Ennahda and Qalb Tounes (Heart of Tunisia) -- led by detained business tycoon Nabil Karoui -- were both swift to claim victory after polls closed at 6:00 p.m. local time.

Two exit polls after the close of voting showed Ennahda in the lead with 40 seats out of 217, while Qalb Tounes was in second, with one pollster giving it 35 seats, and another 33.

However, preliminary official results are not expected until Wednesday.

Ennahda won the first parliamentary election after the overthrow of former President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, but was accused by the opposition of seeking to entrench itself in power, disregarding the interests of a large secular urban population and being lenient toward radical Islamists.

It was later forced to step down in favor of a caretaker government and subsequently lost a 2014 election to its secular rival.

In the runup to Sunday’s vote, Ennahdha and Qalb Tounes officially ruled out forming an alliance, and with a plethora of parties and movements running, the stage could be set for complex and rowdy negotiations or even a second poll, noted AFP.

The legislative vote comes after candidates aligned with traditional political parties were eclipsed by independent runners during the first round of presidential polls last month.

More than 15,000 candidates on 1,500 lists contested 217 seats in a parliament dominated by Ennahda in alliance with centrist party Nidaa Tounes, which has been decimated by infighting.

The elections commission, ISIE, said turnout was 41.3 percent, well down from the 64 percent achieved in 2014.

The first round of the presidential poll achieved a turnout of 49 percent.