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Tunisian lawmaker calls for unity as Islamists admit defeat in key election

October 28th, 2014
05:51 PM ET

By Madalena Araujo, CNN

The Vice Chair of Tunisia’s Constituent Assembly called for unity on Tuesday, a day after her leading Islamist party conceded defeat in the country’s parliamentary election.

“We are convinced that we shall work together. Tunisians, whether we belong to such-or-such party, whether we are from civil society or political parties. We are still calling for this, calling to work together to push Tunisia forward on the path of democracy,” Mehrezia Labidi told CNN's Michael Holmes, in for Christiane Amanpour.

Although she won her seat in the election, Labidi’s Ennahda party lost out to its mainly secular rival Niida Tounes after Tunisians cast their ballots on Sunday. She said the outcome was expected.

“After the election of 2011 – Ennahda, and not only Ennahda but many other political parties and especially al-Takattul and Congress, they led the government in this very sensitive period of transition with all problems of unemployment, of development, of also the challenge of terrorism. And in such periods, the power indeed… erodes the trust of people and the government,” she said.

Tunisia, whose revolution marked the beginning of the Arab Spring, is often hailed as the movement's only success story. The country has remained relatively stable since the uprising, which overthrew President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011. This was also the country’s first election under its new constitution.

“We are homogenous on the ethnic, linguistic and religious level. The second factor is the high level of education. Tunisian people are educated people and I think also those - the politicians who are leading this phase of democratic transition are used to work together,” Labidi said.

Tunisia is the largest contributor of foreign fighters in Syria. Around 3,000 nationals have gone to fight there, according to The Soufan Group. Labidi blames “the despotic phase under the former regime of Ben Ali.”

“It was a period where real, and good and positive religious culture was completely banned from our educational programs, from culture. So we have a youth, a generation of young people who have no real reform and authentic Tunisian religious cultures. So they have been obstructed and trapped by speeches of extremism and by these movements which are crossing the borders of countries,” she said.

Holmes also spoke to Carlotta Gall, North Africa Correspondent for The New York Times and a veteran reporter on the war on terror. She pointed to the economy as the decisive factor in this weekend’s election.

“It really was the economy, prices have risen, people are still jobless in many cases and so they were angry and they wanted to show that,” Gall said, adding that terrorist attacks also influenced the electorate. “This creeping Islamism that people got very scared of because suddenly it became violent,” she said.

Gall also said that the winning party now has to form a coalition government. “They have to form a government with other parties, possibly they will do a unity government with the Islamists but that is going to be quite tricky and going to take we reckon weeks possibly months to negotiate,” she said.

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