The country’s first-ever democratic elections are being hailed at home and abroad as a triumph for the Arab Spring.
No results had been issued 14 hours after polls closed in Tunisia’s first-ever electoral contest without a pre-determined outcome, held nine months after the ouster of dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali that sparked region-wide uprisings.
The Islamist Ennahda party is widely predicted to win the most votes but fall short of a majority in a new 217-member assembly that will rewrite the constitution and appoint a president to form a caretaker government.
After a day marked by snaking queues of voters at polling stations countrywide, several political parties held gatherings in the capital overnight without claiming an outcome.
At the headquarters of Ennahda, supporters congratulated each other at a late-night function where they celebrated with fruit juice as a pulpit set up for party leader Rached Ghannouchi remained empty.
“The people have voted, democracy has triumphed,” the daily La Presse said in bold, red letters—the colour of the Tunisian flag—on its front page Monday.
“October 23, 2011 will be remembered in history as a very special day not only for Tunisia but for the entire Arab world.
“For the first time in this vast autocratic region ... a popular consultation was held that respected the rules and criteria followed in countries with a long tradition of democracy."
UN chief Ban Ki-moon congratulated the Tunisian people for holding “peaceful and orderly” elections.
Some 7.2 million Tunisians were eligible to vote, and elections chief Kamel Jendoubi saying turnout had “exceeded all expectations”.
The current, interim government will remain in power until the assembly appoints a new president, not before November 9.