Almost 70 percent of registered voters in Tunisia turned out for an election today—the country's first since its former president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fled the country in January. Ennahda, the moderate Islamist party (with a "commitment to democracy and women's rights") headed by ex-exile Rachid Ghannouchi, is expected to win, though it may be forced to form a coalition, while the secular Progressive Democratic Party will likely take second place. In Sidi Bouzid, the rural town where the self-immolation of fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi kicked off the weeks of protests that eventually ousted Ben Ali—and, arguably, the Egyptian and Libyan regimes—Tunisians crowded the polls:

"This is the first time you feel that your vote counts, so it's a responsibility," said Sara Naji, a secondary school teacher. "We suffered a lot from pessimism and frustration but now we're building a new life."

Queues of people lined up in schools to vote, with independent observers and officiating officers supervising an orderly process that most Tunisians avoided before because Ben Ali's police and ruling party routinely cooked up the results.

"This isn't a rebirth of democracy — it's the birth itself," said voting officer Farhat Nsiri. "I have never seen such enthusiasm before. The process has been impeccable."

[Reuters, BBC; image via AP]