A once-banned Islamist party claimed victory Monday in Tunisia's landmark elections, with the first official results indicating it had won half the seats reserved for Tunisians living abroad.

The success by the moderate Ennahda party for the overseas seats is expected to be replicated domestically as votes continue to be counted from Tunisia's Sunday election for a body to write a new constitution in the country that unleashed uprisings this year across the Arab world.

"The first confirmed results show that Ennahda has obtained first place nationally and in most districts," Al Jazeera quoted the party's campaign manager, Abelhamid Jlass, as saying Monday in a news conference.

A party official also was quoted by Reuters as saying that Ennahda was prepared to form an alliance with two secular parties, Congress for the Republic and Ettakatol, which were battling for second place in early results.

Official results are not expected until later Monday or Tuesday. Secretary General Boubker Bethabet of the election commission said more than 90 per cent of the 4.1 million registered voters participated.


A Tunisian woman holds a national flag with her ink-stained finger after casting her ballot on Sunday. (Zohra Besemra/Reuters)

Tunisians voted Sunday to elect a constituent assembly in the first elections emerging from the uprisings around the Middle East known as the Arab Spring, in which citizens in the North African country ousted their their longtime ruler, Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, in January.

Coalition likely

Despite its initial lead, it is likely Ennahda would have to negotiate a coalition agreement with one of the smaller secular parties such as centrist Ettakatol, which recent polling suggests was expected to win 10 to 15 per cent of the votes.

Ennahda believes that Islam should be the reference point for the country's system and laws but maintains it will respect women's rights and is committed to democracy and working with other parties.

Tunisia was known for decades for its repressive leadership but also for its progressive legislation on women and families, which secular-leaning Tunisians fear Ennahda will roll back if it takes a commanding number of seats in the new 217-seat assembly.

France — Tunisia's former colonial master — said that with Sunday's elections the country had "confirmed its role as pioneer."

Tunisia's economy and employment, however, have only gotten worse since Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia because tourists and foreign investors have stayed away.

With files from CBC News