(Bloomberg) -- Tunisia counted votes from Sunday’s parliamentary elections, as an exit poll suggested a moderate Islamist party will get the most ballots while falling short of the majority needed to form a government.
Polling by local firm Sigma Conseil showed Ennahda winning with 17.5% of votes, with Heart of Tunisia -- the party of jailed TV mogul Nabil Karoui -- in second place with 15.6%. While the split was expected, it will likely mean a prolonged period of horse-trading to form a ruling coalition in the North African country that’s already endured years of bickering and compromises.
Tunisia, which kicked off the Arab Spring in 2011 with mass protests that ousted then-leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, is the only country to have emerged from the maelstrom with a viable democracy. Yet many of the 11.5 million population accuse the government of failing to improve their lives, as political infighting and sporadic militant attacks have sapped the economy.
Under Sigma’s figures, Ennahda would get 40 seats in Tunisia’s 217-member assembly, Heart of Tunisia 33 and Nidaa Tounes, formerly the main centrist option, just one. Tahya Tounes -- which broke away from Nidaa and is led by Prime Minister Youssef Chahed -- may win 16 seats, according to the poll.
The official preliminary results are due by Oct. 10. Once finalized on Nov. 13, the party with the most seats will have two months to form a government.
Ennahda, which has held various posts in Tunisia’s government before, said late Sunday it had secured “an indisputable win” and would pursue a “policy of partnership with other parties on the basis of a fight against poverty and combating corruption.”
The Dignity Coalition, which Sigma’s poll showed could win 18 seats, signaled it was open to an alliance with Ennahda, but not Heart of Tunisia. The Democratic Current, which may secure slightly less, said it wouldn’t work with either of the two leading parties.
Political discontent fueled a rejection of the establishment in the Sept. 15 presidential vote, where low-profile law professor Kais Saied and Karoui, a self-proclaimed champion of the poor who’s being held on corruption charges he denies, took the lead. The two outsiders will compete in an Oct. 13 runoff.
Ennahda, which was once outlawed, says it has abandoned political Islam, although secularist critics continue to accuse it of having plans to subvert Tunisia’s modern history of secularism. The party is backing Saied for the presidency after the failure of its candidate, while leader Rashid Ghannouchi ran for parliament in Tunisia’s largest constituency.
Karoui’s recently formed Heart of Tunisia party has painted itself as a popular alternative to years of political malaise, citing its founder’s detention since August as proof of a corrupt system. It also declared victory late Sunday.
About 41% of the country’s more than 7 million registered voters cast a ballot, according to electoral authorities. Sigma’s exit poll for the presidential vote correctly predicted the main result.
(Updates with parties’ reactions in seventh paragraph.)
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