Thousands of Tunisians cast ballots in Canada

Tunisians living in Canada voted this weekend in the country's first election since the fall of the ruling regime last January.
Thousands of people lined up in Montreal and Ottawa to cast their vote in Tunisia's first free, multi-party election since the country gained independance. (CBC)
A voter dips his finger in ink at a Montreal polling station Saturday. (CBC)
An estimated 10,000 Tunisians living in Canada voted this weekend in the country’s first democratic election since the fall of its oppressive ruling regime last winter.

Hundreds of people lined up in Montreal Saturday morning for their chance to elect their homeland's new general assembly.

"I am so happy, you cannot imagine," said Ahlem Braham, who cast her vote at one of the three polling stations set up in Montreal and Ottawa.

It is the first time . . . it is a dream for us.

A former French colony, Tunisia has had only two presidents in the 54 years since gaining independence in 1956.

It’s been nine months since the so-called Jasmine Revolution drove president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali out of the country, sparking a pro-democracy movement that quickly spread across the region.

Proportional Representation

The new elected assembly will be tasked with appointing a government and drafting a new constitution.

A proportional representation system will likely mean that no political party will dominate the assembly, which is expected to be divided roughly between the moderate Islamic Ennahda party, centrist parties and left-wing parties.

There are 7.5 million potential voters, though only 4.4 million of them, or just under 60 per cent, are actually registered.

Voters in each of the country's 33 districts – six of which are abroad – have a choice of between 40 and 80 electoral lists, consisting of parties and independent candidates.

It's a long way from previous elections when voters only had to take the red ballot for the ruling party, place it in an envelope and drop it in the ballot box.

"I hadn't really a choice," Marouan Ouir, who cast his vote in Montreal, said of the last time he voted in a Tunisian election.

"There was only one choice to vote for."

Ex-pats vote in 24 regions

Many Tunisians living in Canada did not think they would get the chance to vote after the federal government said in September it would not allow the Tunisian embassy to open polling stations. That decision was overturned last week.

Votes cast in Canada will be added to ballots from Tunisians in 23 other regions around the world.

They’ll all be collected in Montreal. The final results will elect two representatives to the Tunisian assembly.

with files from the Associated Press