TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — A liberal party with ties to the deposed regime took the most seats in Tunisia's parliamentary elections, leaving the once dominant Islamists running a close second, the election commission announced in the early hours of the morning Thursday.
The Nida Tunis (Tunis Calls) Party, running on an explicitly anti-Islamist platform, won 85 of the 217 seats in parliament, giving it the right to name a prime minister and lead a coalition government.
The moderate Islamist Ennahda Party, which had previously dominated the parliament, won 69 seats, or nearly 32 percent, of the new parliament, representing a loss of some 23 seats.
Since overthrowing its dictator in 2011 and kicking off the Arab Spring pro-democracy wave, Tunisia has been buffeted by economic turmoil and terrorist attacks.
Analysts have described Sunday's election as a referendum on the Islamist-led coalition's stormy two years in office and punished them for a poor economic performance and unfulfilled expectations of the revolution.
Nida Tunis is led by Beji Caid Essebsi, an 87-year-old veteran politician who previously served as foreign minister in the 1980s and parliament speaker in the early 1990s under later deposed President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
The party, which includes businessmen, trade unionists and politicians from the old regime, has all but ruled out forming a coalition with the Islamists, describing it as "against their nature," and will turn to a collection of smaller parties to garner the necessary 109-seat majority.
Running a distant third was the Free Patriotic Union of Slim Rihai, a millionaire football club owner and political neophyte, with 16 seats.
In fourth place came the left-wing coalition of parties known as the Popular Front, which had two of its members assassinated by extremists in 2013.
The liberal Afek Tounes came in fifth place with eight seats.
The remaining 24 seats were split among another dozen small parties.
Election Commission head Chafik Sarsar said Nida Tunis lost one seat in the southern city of Kasserine following reports of widespread election violations by its partisans in that city.
Alone among countries that experienced the Arab Spring, Tunisia's transition to democracy has remained on track, while Libya and Syria have descended into civil war and Egypt's military overthrew the elected president.
Despite three years of political wrangling, economic turmoil and a rising number of terrorist attacks, Tunisian politicians from different parties managed to work together to pass a new constitution and hold elections for a permanent government.
Presidential elections featuring dozens of candidates are set for Nov. 23.