Libyans, some with tears in their eyes and others with anger, voted on Saturday in elections where many wanted more autonomy from the self-appointed interim government.
In Benghazi, cradle of last year’s revolt, protesters stormed a handful of polling stations and burned hundreds of ballot papers. Gunmen prevented voters from entering some polling stations in the eastern oil port town of Ras Lanuf and other centres in the restive south failed to open, but overall, 94 per cent of stations were running normally and violence was minimal.
“So far, all indications are that this election was free and fair,” US Senator John McCain said in Tripoli after a brief by poll officials.
The 2.8m Libyans, most voting for the first time after four decades of Muammar Gaddafi’s rule, are choosing a 200-member assembly that will elect a prime minister and a cabinet before full parliamentary elections in 2013 under a new constitution. There were almost 4,000 candidates and 130 political parties.
In Tripoli, a loud cry of “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest) was heard as voting began at one polling station, a converted school.
Tears in their eyes
“I came today to be able to vote in a democratic way. Today is like a wedding for us,” said Mahmud Mohammed Al-Bizamti.
Candidates with Islamic agendas dominate the field of more than 3,700 would-be politicians, leading to the possibility that religious parties could secure a grip on power as in Egypt.
“Some of these women are crying as they vote. It is such an emotional day,” said one polling official.
Security was light in Tripoli, where cars raced through the streets, horns honking and passengers waving the red, green and black Libyan national flag out of the window.
Blazing ballot slips
In the eastern city of Benghazi, protesters stormed a polling station just after voting started and set fire to hundreds of ballot slips in a public square. At least four polling stations were hit in such attacks.
“We can see already that the problems are in a small enough proportion of the polling centres that it’s not going to undermine the overall credibility of the election,” UN envoy to Libya Ian Martin said.
Polls close at 8 pm (1800 GMT) but meaningful partial results are not due until Sunday and a full preliminary count is not expected until at least Monday.