Tunisia’s Islamists, beaten into second place in Sunday’s parliamentary elections, say they would be willing to take part in a national unity government in the interests of stability.
The moderate Ennahda party conceded defeat on Monday and congratulated its secular rival.
The Nidaa Tounes party came out top but will need to negotiate a power-sharing deal.
The former Ennahda prime minister Ali Larayedh, himself re-elected as an MP, told supporters: “We will keep working and we are still one of the biggest parties, and we are still the best guarantee for democracy and freedom.”
With official results still awaited, no party has secured an overall majority. Ennahda lags around 10 seats behind the secular party. It is expected to win around 65-70 seats in the 217-seat parliament, compared to about 80 for Nidaa Tounes.
“We congratulate the Nidaa Tounes party for results we’ve heard about so far. Its work has borne fruit,” said Ennahda supporter Sherazade Ben Farhat.
Nidaa Tounes under its leader Béji Caïd Essebsi emerged as a political force in 2012 by rallying opposition to the Islamists.
The 87-year-old is a former parliamentary speaker under the deposed dictator Ben Ali and the election result is likely to see the return to government of some figures from the old regime.
Since the 2011 “Arab Spring” revolt, Tunisia has fared better than its neighbours and has been praised for a relatively successful transition to democracy.