TUNIS, Oct 23 (Reuters) — Tunisian voters poured into polling stations to vote on Sunday in their country’s first free election, 10 months after a vegetable seller set fire to himself in an act of protest that started the Arab Spring uprisings.
The leader of an Islamist party predicted to win the biggest share of the vote was heckled outside a polling station by people shouting “terrorist” — highlighting tensions between Islamists and secularists that are also being felt in other countries touched by the Arab Spring.
Across Tunisia, queues stretching hundreds of metres formed outside polling stations from early in the morning for an election which could set the template for other Middle Eastern states emerging from the Arab Spring.
The level of voter interest was never seen during Ben Ali’s rule. Then, only a trickle of people turned out for elections because they knew the result was pre-determined.
An Ennahda victory would be the first such success in the Arab world since Hamas won a 2006 Palestinian vote. Islamists won a 1991 election in Algeria, Tunisia’s neighbour. The army annulled the result, provoking years of conflict.
Ennahda’s fortunes could have a bearing on Egyptian elections set for next month in which the Muslim Brotherhood, an ideological ally, also hopes to emerge strongest.