Rachid Ghannouchi, Tunisia Islamist Leader, Re-Elected

07/17/2012 08:38 am ET

TUNIS, Tunisia -- Tunisia's most powerful Islamist party re-elected a moderate as its leader by a landslide in the early hours of the morning Tuesday, snubbing candidates that believed in imposing Islamic law on the country.

Rachid Ghannouchi took 72,58 percent of the vote of delegates at the conclusion of a five day conference in which the party promised to promote a civil state with a culture of democracy and the peaceful transfer of power.

The conference has been closely watched because Ennahda holds the most seats in the assembly elected in October charged with running the country and writing its new constitution.

After decades of being suppressed by Tunisia's dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who was overthrown last year, Ennahda dominated elections and now rules in a coalition with two other secular parties.

The party said it will push for a parliamentary system in the new constitution, rather than the strong presidency it had before, to avoid a return to dictatorship.

The liberal and left wing opposition parties have called for a presidential system and it is possible that the final result will be a compromise with a president holding some degree of power.

Once the constitution is completed, new elections for a parliament will be held, probably in March.

The party's final statement also called for preserving women's achievements in Tunisia, long seen as the most progressive Arab country, and working for their equality in the professional and political spheres.

Since the revolution there has been a rise in ultraconservative Muslims, known as Salafis, who have called for Islamic state and protesting perceived insults to the religion. They have attacked art exhibits and television stations they say insulted Islam.

In an apparent gesture to such conservatives, Ennahda called for criminalizing blasphemy and attacks on the sacred values.

It also described the Palestinian question as "the central cause of the Arab-Muslim nation," and called for criminalizing "normalization with the Zionist entity," a reference to Israel.