Tunisians turned out in steady, orderly lines on Sunday to vote in their first free and democratic presidential election, voicing confidence that they were turning the page on the often-fractious transition after the revolution of 2011. Exit polls suggested that neither of the two leading candidates — the interim president, Moncef Marzouki, and the former prime minister, Beji Caid Essebsi — was likely to win an outright majority and that a runoff between them would be necessary. Official results were not expected for one or two days. Mr. Essebsi, 87, leads the secular party Nidaa Tounes and has been ahead in polls for months; his party won the largest bloc of seats in parliamentary elections in October. He appeared to be winning between 42 percent and 47 percent of the vote on Sunday, according to the results of two private exit polls that were announced on Tunisian television channels.
Mr. Marzouki, 69, a dissident, physician and human rights activist who has served as interim president since 2011, appeared to be receiving 29 percent to 32 percent of the vote, the exit polls indicated. His party suffered badly in the legislative elections, punished for its role in an Islamist-led coalition government that ruled for two chaotic years. Other candidates among the field of 27 were drawing 10 percent or less.
Each of the leading campaigns claimed that its candidate was ahead but would fall short of a majority. The provisional date for a runoff is Dec. 28.