Libya held its first nationwide elections in nearly five decades on Saturday. The election had no shortage of problems. In Benghazi, where the revolution started, protesters against the “unfair” division of seats attacked a polling station. In Brega, Adjdabiya and Ras Lanouf, ballot boxes were ransacked and voting papers set on fire.
Hints on Sunday suggested that western-leaning parties are making strides over Islamist rivals hoping to follow the same paths to power as in neighbors Egypt and Tunisia.
Libya’s biggest cities suggested liberal factions were leading the Muslim Brotherhood and allies in a possible first major setback to their political surge following last year’s uprisings.
The move challenges the narrative of rising Islamist power since the fall of Western-allied regimes from Tunis to Cairo. It also could display the different political dynamics in Libya, where tribal loyalties run deep and groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood at times cooperated with the rule of Moammar Gadhafi.
“Anyone with past ties with old regime is hated, even despised,” said Fathi al-Fadhali, a pro-Islamist Libyan political analyst who lived in exile for 30 years. “Any political names associated with the regime are immediately politically burnt by that association.”
Ultimately, the 200-seat Parliament will face the task of forming a government — which could become tests of strength for Islamists and secular forces over questions such as women’s rights, the extent of traditional Islamic law and relations with the U.S. and other Western nations that helped bring down Gadhafi.
U.S. President Barack Obama congratulated Libyans on the vote, calling it “another milestone on their extraordinary transition to democracy.” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised the people of Libya and the candidates who “contested the election in a peaceful, democratic spirit,” according to his spokesman.
Now, the ballots have to be portioned out according to two categories: Eighty seats are set aside for party lists, and the remaining 120 for individual independent candidates.
In the first group, a liberal alliance led by former rebel Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril appeared to hold more than half the seats in the capital, Tripoli, and the revolution stronghold of Benghazi, according to several party representatives. They spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
In western Libya, where Jibril’s tribe, the Warfalla, is prominent, his party also was on top in the early counting, the political officials said. In Libya’s third-largest city, Misrata — which was besieged by Gadhafi forces for weeks — an upstart faction of local politicians appeared to hold the lead in another possible blow to Islamists.