23 October 2011 7:03 am |


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TUNIS

We have moved our October 24th coverage to a new page; find it here. More updates after my lunch break. Scroll down for October 23rd coverage.

12:44 pm – Time for a brief lunch break. In the meantime, Mohamed Bennour of Ettakatol gave us a great look into the mindset of political parties as we await real results.

12:06 pm – Mohamed Abbou of the CPR tells Tunisia Live, “As per the future, no party will obtain more than 50% of the votes, thus no party will decide on their own, and there has to be a coalition government. The CPR doesn’t have agreements with any party, and we certainly are not going to make deals that involve the constitution.”

Abbou’s comments echo a call from Ettakatol press attache Mohamed Bennour for a government by consensus. Bennour told Tunisia Live that a government dominated by Ennahda alone would cause instability, even leading to large protests in the street and ongoing insecurity. We read these comments not as a veiled threat but as realistic analysis.

12:00 noon: If Ennahda wins 40% – and preliminary results indicate that this is plausible – the burning question is whether the Congress for the Republic (CPR) enters into a formal coalition with Ennahda. Remember that the first task of the Constituent Assembly is not to write a constitution but to appoint a government. Together the two parties could win a majority. Our preliminary results show the CPR polling better than their single-digit poll numbers of September.

The CPR’s approach to Islam in government is hard to estimate, but as a party they are known as defenders of Tunisian identity. However conservative the CPR may or may not be, a government formed largely from Ennahda and the CPR could be an extraordinary departure for a nation that has called itself secular for decades.

11:30 am – Ettakatol press attache Mohamed Bennour was not at all surprised when Tunisia Live described the early, unofficial results to him. “I think these are correct,” he said, saying that Ettakatol had preliminary results of their own from “several levels.” He did not explicitly say that results from his sources match Mosaique’s results.

We will have more from Ettakatol and other party leaders discussing preliminary results as the day proceeds.

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11:03 am – The results reported in earlier posts today are unofficial, from the website of Mosaique FM. They appear to be credible leaks from within voting stations, where the count began late last night. Overall, the numbers include unofficial results from about 40 different voting stations. For comparison, there are 181 polling stations in the district of Sousse alone, so as an estimate of national results, the 40 on Mosaique FM are a very poor sample.

Assuming this limited information is credible, a few lessons emerge. First, moderate Islamist party Ennahda easily won 40% and over 50% in many stations, giving us the first indication that their electoral success may go well beyond the 20%-30% estimated by many polls.

Second, this small glimpse reveals a high level of regionalism, a factor that polls and analysis have had difficulty predicting. In Sousse, for example, Al Moubadara (the Initiative) party came in first in a few stations and second after Ennahda in many others. Al Moubadara leader Kamel Morjane is from the region of Sousse, and his party did not appear among the top two or three parties anywhere else except in neighboring Monastir. A similar situation appears to be taking place in Sidi Bouzid with the independent Al Aridha Al Chaabia list.

Last note for this update: In polls throughout the year, the two largest center-left political parties that appear to directly oppose Ennahda have been the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) and Ettakatol. The PDP was consistently the more popular in polls, but in this tiny glimpse of the results, Ettakatol appears to have surpassed the PDP and taken the lead as the most popular center-left party in Tunisia.

10:20 am – In Tunis 1, Mosaique FM is saying that one downtown polling station gave 886 votes to Ennahda, 515 for the CPR, 407 for Ettakatol, 191 for the PDM, and 124 for the PDP.

9:54 am – In Bizerte, Mosaique FM gives Ennahda the lead in four bureaus. “Ecole rue d’espagne, room 2″ is roughly representative of the proportions: 349 votes Ennahdha, 135 votes CPR, 115 votes Ettakatol, 38 votes PDP. The total votes accounted for among this handful of bureaus appears to be less than 3% of the total votes cast in the Bizerte district.

Remember you can find profiles of the major political parties on our election resources page, under party profiles.

9:36 am – Mosaique FM says that Ennahda has won 21,000 votes or 47% in Sfax 1 and 34,000 votes or 40% in Sfax 2. This implies that almost half the votes have been counted, meaning the results could be very credible, but the lack of detail in the report makes us hesitant.

I have been using the terms “bureau” and “polling station” interchangeably. By “district” I mean an entire electoral district.

9:22 am – From a number of districts, Mosaique FM is reporting preliminary results based on only one or two polling station. One bureau in Medenine gave 50% of its votes to Ennahda, with the Congress for the Republic Second. In Monastir, Ennahda leads two bureaus, with Al Moubadara in second place. In Ben Arous, one district has Ennahda in the lead with 1110 votes, followed by the CPR with 426 votes, Ettakatol at 496, PDP at 231, and PDM at 123. To put these numbers in context somewhat, a seat is won by approximately 20,700 votes.

9:11 am – We are reporting results from Mosaique FM. It seems unlikely that these results are simply fabricated, but there are good reasons to be cautious in interpretation. If only about 4% of the votes are being reported, then this could mean smaller, more rural bureaus are reporting first. Projecting overall results based on a handful of rural districts would obviously skew the results, but with so little history of elections in Tunisia, it is very difficult to say in which direction.

9:08 am – In Sousse, Ennahda leads in fourteen bureaus according to Mosaique FM, with mostly about 20-40% of the vote and a few outliers above 50%. The number of votes reported between these bureaus represents about 3% or 4% of total votes for the district, based on my very rough back-of-the-envelope calculations. The Initiative Party (Al Moubadara), an RCDist party, also leads a couple bureaus.

8:55 am: According to Mosaique FM…

In Beja, Ennahda leads in the seven listed bureaus, holding between about 20% and 40%. Ettakatol, the CPR, and the PDP hold second place positions, with Ettakatol best-positioned. The seven bureaus report a total of 4295 votes, which is a small fraction of the overall votes. Variation between bureaus means these small totals could be misleading.

In Sidi Bouzid, Thirteen bureaus are listed, with independent list Al Aridha Al Chaabia holding first place in eleven, with majorities of 95%. Ennahda and the Mouvement Populaire took the other two. Again, it is unclear how reliable these results are. They appear to be based in a very small number of voters.

More districts to come…

8:30 am – Radio stations and parties themselves are presenting unofficial results, based on leaks and tallies held by parties themselves during the counting process. It is hard to tell how representative or accurate they are.

Begin October 24th, 2011

End of October 23rd, 2011

11:24 pm – Tunisia Live is signing off for the night. The election has been successful so far. Security went uncompromised, turnout was high, and the mood was positive. For the first election of the Arab Spring, October 23rd was an encouraging step toward democracy.

Pressed on when exactly the results will be released, ISIE responded, “Our responsibility does not allow us to be lax about the figures.” ISIE President Kamel Jendoubi has said Tuesday is the big day, but ISIE plans to take its time and release accurate results without any errors.

10:39 pm – A Tunisia Live reporter says that a few hours ago, journalists were not allowed to view the count and were removed from a polling station by police on Rue de Russie. Two other reporters were invited into a different polling station, watched the beginning of the count, and spoke genially with observers and the station chief.

Please Note: This page does not update automatically. Click “refresh” in your browser for the latest posts.

10:30 pm – For Tunisia Live’s coverage of some of the setbacks facing voters, see our article about the failure of the SMS system and our article on confusion over ID requirements and other inconveniences.

10:24 pm – To see the mood of the country yourself, visit our gallery of photos from the day here.

10:20 pm – A strident election observer from Paris asks a “question” and takes the opportunity to deliver a glowing review of the elections, saying they compare well with elections organized in long-established democracies. The ISIE official finds himself defending journalists for asking whatever questions they would like.

10:16 pm – With polls mostly closed and the count beginning, it can be said that the day of Tunisia’s first election since the fall of Ben Ali has gone as well as anyone could have hoped. Voter turnout was high, and the mood was excitable but positive. Journalists have asked a number of aggressive questions highlighting minor problems, but none of these problems seem to have the potential to skew the outcome one way or the other.

10:07 pm – Press conference reveals little. Kamel Jendoubi says that out of 4,100,000 registered voters, participation rates reached 90% in some places, and unregistered voters, who could vote with an ID card, participated in high number as well. Still no specific numbers, though.

9:26 pm – ISIE has said that international results will not be released before domestic results. Kamel Jendoubi, president of ISIE, said on state television that turnout statistics would be announced at 9 pm tonight. So the long wait is for turnout statistics, which are less exciting than results but still important. A high voter turnout indicates a belief in the process. Tunisians largely ignored elections in years past because they knew them to be rigged.

9:18 pm - The ISIE Media Center in downtown Tunis is swarming with journalists. The press conference scheduled for 7:00 appears about to start, just like it appeared about to start an hour ago.  The international press is wondering what could be worth the wait.

8:30 pm – Tunisia Live reporters in several polling stations report that the polls have closed and the count has begun. We’re getting conflicting reports about the release of preliminary results, perhaps tonight.

7:57 pm - Mr. Ridha Torkhani, member of ISIE in charge of Tunisians abroad, has indicated that attendance in poll stations outside of Tunisia exceeded expectations. In Germany, for instance, 13,889 Tunisians voted, and other poll stations, such as the one in Dubai, saw 100% attendance of those voluntarily registered. The number of voters in the Arab countries reached 15288; that’s excluding Syria, Yemen, Jordan and Irak. Participation rates in France, however, did not exceed 60 to 70%, vs. 56% in Montreal.  Both the last update and this one are based on information from the state news agency, TAP.

7:55 pm – The Tunisian League for Citizenship has reported abuse in 6 electoral districts. Certain party members have indeed been accused of propaganda during the voting process. Moreover, some rules were not followed by the heads of polling stations, for instance that of queue order and the mandatory seizure of electronic devices during vote. These violations were recorded in Ariana, Mannouba, Tunis 1, Tunis 2, Ben Arous, and Bizerte.

7:30 pm - Twitter has been full of information and misinformation today. Rumors that lines at polling stations were separated by gender in some locations proved true; claims that the PDP Facebook page was hacked were quickly debunked. Throughout the revolution, many young Tunisians used social media like Facebook and Twitter as a news feed. Images spread in December and January of massive protests that official news sources were slow to cover. Today, social media has been the fastest to report truth and false rumor alike. The political system is not all that is changing in Tunisia.

6:49 pm – Lines at polling stations are much shorter now as the sun goes down in Tunis. Polls are supposed to close at 7 pm, and ISIE has announced that anyone in line before 7 pm will be allowed to vote. But ISIE has been inconsistent in some regard, and ISIE workers on the ground can apply the rules without much consistency. After a mostly smooth day, the closure of the voting stations may be the last hurdle before the count begins.

6:42 pm – According to TAP, approximately 250 people protested this morning in front of the Regional Body for Independent Elections in Ariana. These protestors complain they were not able to vote, having lost their IDs or their names having failed to be found on the electoral registers. Mrs. Mounira Mahfoudh, President of the Regional Body for Independent Elections, has recorded the complaints, which will be passed on to the Independent High Authority for the Elections.

6:00 pm - The results of the National Constituent Assembly elections will be announced on Tuesday afternoon, said Kamel Jendoubli, President of the Independent High Authority for the Elections.

5:51 pm - During a press conference held at the Media Center in central Tunis this afternoon, Kamel Jendoubi, President of the Independent High Authority for the Elections (ISIE), announced that turnout for the Constituent Assembly elections are above 80% in certain districts. He added that the names of 4000 registered voters couldn’t be found on the electoral register, but that the ISIE was putting all its effort into finding a favorable legal outcome to this situation.

As for vote counting abroad, Mr. Jendoubi said it is still in progress.

5:20 pm - Gordon Gray, the American Ambassador in Tunisia,  visited the Media Center earlier this afternoon, and told Tunisia Live reporters he was pleasantly surprised at the high participation rate in these elections. After having visited several polling stations today, and having met observers from Tunisian NGOs and other international organisations, he felt reassured the elections are being conducted in a trustworthy and transparent manner. He added that other members of the American embassy, posted in other regions, had also reported positively and are hopeful as to a favorable outcome.

When asked if he felt reports were biased, Gray said that all the international and local media he had been following, namely Al Jazeera International, CNN, and three Tunisian stations, proved to be accurate and straightforward. He added that in his opinion, the leading media is Tunisia Live.

5:11 pm - The Secretary General of Ennahda, Jbel Hammadi, head of the party’s list in Sousse, reiterated that his party will accept the results and the people’s choice, regardless of how well Ennahda scores. Hammadi added that the party has every confidence in the Independent High Authority for the Elections (ISIE). This statement was clearly referring to Rached Ghannouchi’s recent controversial declaration, in which he had stated that Ennahda would cause mayhem if the party didn’t score well and that the elections were proved rigged.

4:45 pm – Preliminary results are expected to be announced later today during a press conference, which will be given by Kamel Jendoubi, President of the Independent High Authority for the Elections.

3:55 pm - According to TAP, three presidents and twelve members of polling stations in Aboul Kacem Chebbi in Gafsa and Awled Bouyoun in Ktar, have been replaced, on suspicion of belonging to political parties currently running for the elections. This happened today, just a few hours after voting kick-off. Investigations are ongoing. In the meantime, the army and security forces have been raking the areas of Metlaoui, Oum Laraes and Redeyef for further inspection, said the President of the Independent Regional Body for the Elections to TAP.

Other offenses and overruns have been reporter in other polling stations, according to the Observatory of the process election ”Chahed”. It has also been said that some voters have received money in exchange for their votes.

2:40 pm – A Tunisia Live reporter has successfully used the SMS registration service provided by ISIE. In a press conference, ISIE President Kamel Jendoubi says there were issues this morning but that trouble has been resolved. We will continue to investigate.

1:59 pm – Young people apparently roll out of bed at around noon in Tunis. Lines this morning were mostly full of older Tunisians and families, but our camera team saw large numbers of younger voters joining the queues in Bab LaKwas about half an hour ago.

Some are complaining about the large crowds, but the overwhelming consensus is that for a first electoral experience, it is not bad. An 80-year-old woman wearing a sefsari (traditional Tunisian garb) told our crew, “We are voting for the future of our children.”

Party representatives are allowed in the polling stations as observers, but they may not interfere or publicize for their party. An Ennahda observer in Bab LaKwas told Tunisia Live they have seen nothing amiss so far today.

1:47 pm – Voters who did not register before today were supposed to send a text message to ISIE to receive notice of where they should vote. However, Tunisia Live reporters at numerous polling stations say that many people have sent the text message and received nothing in reply, leaving them unable to vote. It seems likely the ISIE’s untested SMS service was overloaded. Without asking for information on the subject, our camera team in Kabaria, a southern suburb of Tunis, was independently approached by almost ten people with the same complaint.

Rached Ghannouchi lining up to vote with members of his family, October 23rd, 2011.

1:29 pm – “The massive turnout of Tunisians to the polls has beaten all predictions,” said Kamel Jendoubi, president of the Independent High Authority for the Elections (ISIE) in a press conference downtown.

1:10 pm – As promised, see at right the image of Rached Ghannouchi, leader of moderate Islamist party Ennahda, lining up with his family to vote at an elementary school in Menzah 6.

Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, leader of the PDP, is currently voting in La Marsa.

1:03 pm – Maya Jribi, secretary-general of the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP): “We broke with despotism on January 14th and we are entering into a new phase of history where the citizens may freely choose their representatives.”

12:51 pm – Interim Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi voted this morning and delivered a short statement afterwards, expressing his hope that the democratic process will be “irreversible.” Article here.

12:04 pm – In case you missed our press headlines this morning, the French papers focused every top story on today’s elections. The Arabic papers were a bit more wide-ranging, with election coverage and national stories mixed.

11:27 am – Tunisia Live reporters have seen some voters sent to the back of the line because they did not come prepared with an identification number provided by the Independent High Authority for the Election (ISIE).

Overall, voting seems to be proceeding without major problems, but minor problems and crowded polling stations are adding a bit of an edge to the excited atmosphere.

11:07 amVideo of Rached Ghannouchi after voting in Menzah 6 apparently shows members of the crowd shouting, “Dégage” (“Get out”) as he emerges from the polling station. There are also whistles and cheers. Ghannouchi himself holds his ink-marked finger up as the media surrounds him.

The cry of “Dégage” echoed throughout Tunisia on January 14th, 2011, amidst massive popular protests against former President Ben Ali.

11:07 am - An ISIE source confirmed to Tunisia Live that men and women were separated into two lines at polling stations in some locations in Ettadhamen, Ibn Khaldoun, and Denden. Heads of voting stations separated the lines because of disturbances among the crowd. The reorganization also allowed them to give priority to handicapped voters, pregnant women, and the elderly.

10:17 am – Reports from social media show voters in Ettadhamen, a working-class western suburb of Tunis, divided into two lines at polling stations: one line for men and one for women.

10:01 am – Talel Nacer, freelance photographer currently in Kef, says that citizens have flooded the local polling station, forming huge lines. Security is very visible, with Tunisian helicopters overhead. Nacer reports that the mood is largely positive, with people proud to vote.

Many Tunisia Live reporters themselves are voting this morning, reporting long lines in suburbs and towns around the capital, Tunis.

8:55 amGoogle is featuring the Tunisian election as a doodle on its home page this morning. The company has been active in Tunisia since the revolution, supporting a number of projects aimed at promoting political discourse online.

8:22 am – Tunisian flag pennants lined the Route X highway north out of Tunis this morning. Asked if he would vote, my taxi driver explained incorrectly that Tunisians will elect a new president today, and gestured to my handful of newspapers, saying I could find everything I wanted to know about the election in there. His misinformed response demonstrates the challenges facing Tunisians today. For a nation inexperienced with democracy, choosing between over 70 parties (down from over 100) and hundreds of independent candidates for a Constituent Assembly is a difficult task.

Voters queue to vote at 7:00am at an elementary school in Lafayette district, downtown Tunis, October 23rd, 2011. Tunisia Live Image.

8:07 am – Voting opened in polls around the nation at 7:00am and are scheduled to remain open until 7:00pm. Early birds had already formed long lines in polling stations around Tunis. The mood in Lafayette district was quiet, with a line stretching around the corner of the block and several camera crews gathered to catch a first glimpse. Security was visible and polite.

Tunisia Live reporters in Menzah 6 say that Rached Ghannouchi, leader of moderate Islamist party Ennahda, arrived to vote expecting to skip the line and go through some sort of VIP entrance. Objections from the crowd forced him to settle into the regular queue with his family, where his presence has gathered a media scrum. Other voters appear impatient with the disturbance. Pictures to come.

7:51 am – Good morning, and welcome to Tunisia Live’s coverage of the Tunisian elections. Tunisians go to the polls today to elect a Constituent Assembly, which will write a new constitution and appoint a new transitional government. Be sure to check out our election resources page for more info and follow our coverage throughout the day.

As the country that started the wave of popular protests and revolutions known as the Arab Spring, Tunisia is a leader of the Arab world. Today, the small North African nation continues to lead by holding the region’s first elections since ousting their former president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, in January.

As yesterday’s weather forecast in Le Quotidien wrote, the outlook for election day is “sunny skies, barring the unpredictable.” Check this page regularly for the latest news from the Tunisia Live team, on the ground in Tunis and around the nation.

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