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Tunisians Await Election Results


Turnout was huge in Tunisia's first democratic election, with almost 90 percent of the population casting their votes. The official results will be announced this afternoon in the capital, Tunis, but there are already signs that the moderate Muslim party has done very well. Eleanor Beardsley joins us from Tunis.

Good morning, Eleanor.


SHAPIRO: Tell us about this party that seems to be in the lead.

BEARDSLEY: Well, this party is called Ennahda, which means renaissance, and they were banned under the dictator Ben Ali. So a lot of the followers are so happy that they're back, because people were imprisoned, a lot of them were persecuted. And so the leader actually went into exile in London. And he just came back in January.

They say they're moderate. They will work within a democracy. They don't plan on changing anything in Tunisia about the way people live. And so this is who they are. Their followers are thrilled. They say they represent good conservative values of the country. They trust them.

But, of course, there's another segment of Tunisian society that is nervous about it.

SHAPIRO: Tell us about that. What is the reaction overall across the country to this party's success?

BEARDSLEY: I wouldn't say it's split. But there's these two elements in everyone. It is a Muslim country. They're just moderate. So there's this whole element of young people who lived under Ben Ali, where religion was actually discouraged. So it's just a regular secular society, as in Europe.

Like in Tunis and on the coastal cities you have young people. It's a very, very modern place. It's very European here. So these people are nervous to have such a party, a religious party having a big influence in the new government. And they're the ones who say, yeah, the party says it's moderate, but we don't trust it.

SHAPIRO: And this was Tunisia's first ever free democratic election. Overall, how did it go?

BEARDSLEY: Oh, it was - there was an electric current on Sunday, you could feel it. Every polling place you went to was just, you know, mobbed. I mean, the lines snaked out the door, around the building. People were happy, exuberant.

And one thing everyone said was that whoever wins, we're going to respect the results. Everyone was so happy to actually be voting for the first time. I only met one woman who had said she had ever voted before. And I don't know if you remember, but the dictator used to say he had 90 percent of the votes. But I only met one person who actually ever voted before. So that was interesting.

So people were excited. They know that the whole world is watching them. They know that they started these Arab revolutions, this Arab Spring. And they know they're setting the example. So excitement to vote and everyone says we'll respect whoever wins.

SHAPIRO: And what's the next step after these results are announced?

BEARDSLEY: Well, the results will be announced today. And the next step is they're going to pick a president and form a government. And this new government and this new constitutional assembly will write a constitution for this country. And it's going to be a constitution that takes into account everyone's rights. And it's a very important first step, because the future of Tunisia's now, you know, dependent on this new constitution.

We could sort of say that the revolution has been concluded with these elections. They've done their job. It only took 10 months, which is pretty good.

And one thing that's kind of funny is everyone's saying, you know, whoever comes into power, we respect them, but if they are extremist or, you know, they don't follow the rules, we'll take back to the streets and we'll say, you know, degage, which is what they told Ben Ali. They said get out.

So there's this real sense now that the people have power, this people power. Like the people are confident that their leaders will respect them, because if not, they know what's coming.

SHAPIRO: That's Eleanor Beardsley speaking with us from Tunis.

Thanks, Eleanor.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.