“"Today, less than a year after they inspired the world, the Tunisian people took an important step forward. I congratulate the millions of Tunisians who voted in the first democratic elections to take place in the country that changed the course of history and began the Arab Spring. Just as so many Tunisian citizens protested peacefully in streets and squares to claim their rights, today they stood in lines and cast their votes to determine their own future. Now, Tunisia begins the hard work of forming an interim government, drafting a new Constitution, and charting a democratic course that meets the aspirations of all Tunisians. The United States reaffirms its commitment to the Tunisian people as they move toward a democratic future that offers dignity, justice, freedom of expression, and greater economic opportunity for all."-President Barack Obama”

An estimated 70% of the registered voters in Tunisia turned out in today’s historic “Arab Spring Elections.” The election appears to have gone forward without widespread violence, albeit with campaigning on the day of the election and what monitors called “soft intimidation” with marches.

The Washington Post shared key background on Tunisia’s milestone:

The ballot is an extra-large piece of paper bearing the names and symbols of the parties fielding a candidate in each district. The symbols are meant to aid the illiterate, estimated at about 25 percent of the population in a country with one of the most educated populations in the region.

Voters in each of the country’s 33 districts, six of which are abroad, have a choice of between roughly 40 and 80 electoral lists.

It’s a cacophony of choice in a country effectively under one-party rule since independence from France in 1956, and where the now-popular Islamist party Ennahda was long banned.

There are 7.5 million potential voters, though only 4.4 million of them, or just under 60 percent, are actually registered. People can vote with their identity cards but only at certain stations, which caused some confusion.

Reuters provided some context regarding the power that an Islamist party would hold in Tunisian government, a potential development that analysts are watching closely.

It will have to compete with secularist parties, who will try to form a coalition to stop Ennahda forming a majority.

Sunday’s vote is for an assembly that will draft a new constitution to replace the one Ben Ali manipulated to entrench his power. It will also appoint an interim government and set elections for a new president and parliament.

Most forecasts are that Ennahda will not have enough seats for a majority in the assembly, forcing it to seek a coalition which will dilute the Islamists’ influence.

The New York Times offered this coda on what Mohamed Bouazizi ignited:

On Sunday, his mother, Manoubia Bouazizi, 53, called the elections “a moment of victory for my son, who died defending dignity and liberty.”

“Nothing would have happened if my son had not reacted against voicelessness and a lack of respect,” she said in an interview with Reuters. “I hope the people who are going to govern will be able to keep this message in mind and give consideration to all Tunisians, including the poor.”

Noting the revolts still raging across the Arab world that were set off by her son’s immolation, she added, “He is no longer the son of Tunisia, he is the son of the whole world.”