TUNISIANS HAND ISLAMISTS A MAJOR DEFEAT IN HISTORIC VOTE

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Oct. 27 (GIN) – North African Tunisians whose rebellion sparked the so-called Arab Spring in 2011, turned out in force to elect a secular party - Nidaa Tounes – over the incumbent Islamist Ennahda party in preliminary results released on Sunday.

It was the country’s first election since the “Dignity Revolution” and was marked with a strong turnout of over 60 percent.

Voters abandoned Ennahda for failing to resolve abuses of the former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who ruled Tunisia for more than 20 years. Among these were high unemployment, food inflation, corruption, a lack of freedom of speech and poor living conditions.

The suicide of a vegetable vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, after he was slapped and fined by a police officer, is said to have set off the unrest that led to Ben Ali’s flight out of the country. A trial of the ex-president, in absentia, found him guilty of the crimes of inciting violence and murder. He faces life sentences in Tunisia if he returns.

In this past weekend’s voting, Nidaa Tounes took 83 seats, with the Islamist Ennahda trailing with 68.

Ahmed Gaaloul, a member of the Ennadha party's shura (consultative) council, said history showed that the first governments to lead countries after revolutions often had a difficult time.

"People's expectations are higher after a revolution. Governing is not an easy task in those conditions," Gaaloul told Al Jazeera.

“Our vision is that if the opposition is elected, we’ll have to govern within a coalition. It’s in the benefit of the country to include all the political players."

Despite outbreaks of police violence – as seen in the rap music videos of Armada Bizerta in their version of The Sound of Da Police - and a difficult economic situation, Tunisia's progress on human rights is still far ahead of most of its fellow Arab countries.

Abdel Basset Hassan, director of the Arab Institute for Human Rights in Tunis, said in a press interview: "Human rights are being institutionalized to a strong degree… They are being integrated into the daily social life of poor and working class Tunisians, far more so than in Morocco or Egypt.”

The country's first free presidential elections are scheduled for Nov. 27. w/pix of Tunisian women voters

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