TUNIS, Tunisia – Tunisians vote Sunday to elect a permanent parliament and complete a democratic transition that began when they overthrew their long-ruling dictator in 2011.
This comparatively well-educated, middle class country of 11 million people faces the challenges of a weak economy, an unsettled regional neighborhood and the specter of Islamist radicals seeking to disrupt elections.
There are 13,000 candidates from 90 parties competing for 217 seats spread across 33 districts (including six set aside for Tunisians living abroad). Final results are expected Wednesday.
The moderate Ennahda Party dominated elections in 2011. As the most organized force in what is still a fairly conservative society, it could dominate the contests again despite the problems which bedeviled its two years in power before stepping down in favor of a caretaker government.
The main opposition to the Islamists is the Nida Tunis (Tunisia's Call) party led by veteran politician Beiji Caid Essebsi, a surprisingly vigorous 87 years old, and its entire agenda seems aimed at countering Ennahda. Essebsi talks about creating a "modern" state and says the Islamists will drag the country backward. The party has polled well, but its members have little to unite them other than a dislike of Ennahda.
The left-wing Popular Front coalition of parties that had two of its members assassinated in 2013 and could garner sympathy votes as well as support from those who oppose the Islamists and liberals.
A spoiler could come in the form of political neophyte Slim Riahi, a billionaire businessman who owns a soccer team and has been promising Tunisians the world if his Free Patriotic Union party wins power.