Ennahda says will not impose Islamic banking

Tunisia's moderate Islamists have triumphed in the first elections held after the onset of the Arab Spring, setting the tone for the electoral contests that are in the offing in a region where blazing uprisings over the last 10 months have toppled entrenched dictatorships.

The Islamist Ennahda party won 90 seats in the 217-member Assembly, which will write a new Constitution, appoint an interim government and prepare for fresh parliamentary and presidential elections, probably within a year. The leftist Congress for the Republic (CPR) won 30 seats and the centre-left Ettakatol won 21 seats, announced elections chief Kamel Jendoubu on Thursday. These elections held on Sunday, where 90 per of the registered voters polled, followed a popular uprising which ended decades of authoritarian rule led by Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.

Analysts say Tunisia's election results are likely to resonate in Egypt, which goes to the polls on November 28.

Ennahda's much-expected strong showing has raised concerns about the party's supposedly tepid commitment to principles of secularism and gender equality. But addressing these fears, Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi said after the results were announced his party stood opposed to discrimination among nationals. “We will continue this revolution to realise its aims of a Tunisia that is free, independent, developing and prosperous in which the rights of God, the Prophet, women, men, the religious and the non-religious are assured because Tunisia is for everyone.”

Prime Minister Beji Caid Sebsi told Egypt's Al-Ahram daily that the Ennahda had done nothing that made him doubt the party's adherence to secularism and democracy. “I can't judge intentions, that's up to God,” said Mr. Sebsi. But he added: “I can only judge by what's public and so far it's positive. At the end of the day, no one can come and change things completely.”

The Prime Minister said he was hopeful that Ennahda “will rule intelligently and deal with reality. It is not necessarily a dark force. Tunisia will continue to move forward and not go against history.” To reassure foreign investors, Ennahda has declared that it would not impose Islamic banking.

Despite its strong showing, the Ennahda would be seeking an alliance to establish a stable coalition — a condition unlikely to allow it to foist a sectarian agenda. Neither the CPR nor the Ettakatol, which have trailed Ennahda, has opposed participation with the Islamists in a broader coalition. Even before the final results were out, the Ennahda had declared its intent to form an inclusive interim government.

Notwithstanding the assurances, the results provoked some violence. Around 2,000 supporters of the Areedha Chaabiya marched on the Ennahda headquarters in Sidhi Bouzid, the cradle of the Tunisian uprising, after election officials, citing financial irregularities, cancelled seats won by the right-wing party. Crowds also set on fire an Ennahda office in Meknassy, 50 km from Sidi Bouzid. Ennahda supporters are holding remnants of the former regime responsible for the violence in Sidi Bouzid, where a night-curfew has been imposed.

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