Nearly four years after staging a revolution that ousted a dictator and promised a future of democracy, Tunisians cast votes in their country’s first full parliamentary election Sunday, picking from thousands of candidates. Voter turnout has been reported at around 60 percent of the electorate, according to state media.
“On behalf of all Americans, I congratulate the people of Tunisia on the democratic election of a new parliament,” President Obama said in a written statement Sunday, calling the vote “an important milestone in Tunisia’s historic political transition.”
The vote in Tunisia, where the removal of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from power in 2011 set off a chain of similar protests and political shifts, is being watched closely, as it could give new authority to the idea of people choosing their own leaders in the Arab world.
“More than 100 political parties are running,” CNN reports. “The two front-runners are the Islamist Ennahda party, which headed up a transitional coalition government before being forced to give up power earlier this year, and Nidaa Tounes, a secular group led by a former Ben Ali parliament speaker.”
The vote could also serve as a statement that Tunisia has finally emerged from the violence and political unrest that was seen threatening its future just last year. That’s when at two opposition leaders were assassinated in a span of 6 months, leading to large protests calling for the country’s Islamist-led interim government to resign.
Some of those concerns were allayed after the ruling Ennahda party “agreed to sit down with the secular opposition to draft the country’s constitution,” as NPR’s Eleanor Beardsley reported earlier this year, when the new constitution was given final approval.
Eleanor spoke about the country’s political environment with Attia Fattoum, an Islamist member of the national assembly.
“There’s a mix of everyone in Tunisia. And it’s not because we have a religious movement now that the secular people are going to go away,” Fattoum said. “We’ve got to live together and respect each other.”