TUNIS, Tunisia — Tunisia’s moderate Islamist party Ennahda claimed victory in the country’s historic first free elections, saying that unofficial results gave it the lion’s share of the vote.

“The first confirmed results show that Ennahda has obtained first place nationally and in most districts,” the party’s campaign manager, Abelhamid Jelassi, told a press conference a day after the first democratic elections in the birthplace of the Arab Spring.

Jelassi said the party had won more than 30 percent of votes cast in Tunisia, and more than 50 percent of the overseas vote in the elections to a 217-seat constituent assembly that will draft a new constitution and appoint a new interim government over the next year.

His figures were based on results collated by the party’s election observers.

Tunisia’s election commission has yet to announce the results of the election, which have been praised by world leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

An election observer team from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe gave the elections a clean bill of health, saying they were free and devoid of “widespread or systematic irregularities.”

Ennahda’s apparent win came as little surprise. Opinion polls had shown the party, which was banned under ousted dictator Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, likely to dominate a fragmented field of more than 70 parties and thousands of independents.

The two other parties that looked to have made gains were the leftist Congress of the Republic of Moncef Marzouki, a doctor and former human rights campaigner, which was also banned under Ben Ali, and the social-democratic party Ettakatol.

The Progressive Democratic Party , the biggest opposition party in the Ben Ali era, looked to have lost ground.

“It’s a shift in the history of Tunisia which has always been modernist, which has always been open, and which is now opting for a largely Islamist choice,” Maya Jribi, secretary general of the PDP, told France Info radio.

Ennahda, whose leader Rachid Ghannouchi has said it was committed to pluralism and gender quality, says it aims to form a broad coalition with other parties and moved to reassure foreign investors.

Jelassi said: “We hope very soon to have stability and the right conditions for investment in Tunisia.”

Tunisians stood in line for hours to have their say in the kind of country they want to see emerge from the revolution that forced Ben Ali into exile in Saudi Arabia in mid-January.

Turnout exceeded 90 percent of the country’s 4.1 million registered voters.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the peaceful elections confirmed Tunisia‘s “pioneer role” and said Tunisians could be “legitimately proud.”

The United States and European Union have also praised the election, with Obama describing the process as “an important step forward.”

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