Polling stations in Libya are officially closed this hour, marking the end of the first free national elections to take place since 1965. Results from the elections, which were marred by regional violence in the east, are expected by Monday.
Around 2.8 million people registered to vote in the historic Saturday elections and turnout is expected to be very high, with people queuing up hours before the polls opened at 6:00 a.m. Libyan time. The elections are being heralded by many Libyans as their chance to truly put the 42-year rule of dictator Muammar Qaddafi, killed in October, behind them.
Libyans are voting to bring into power a 200-member national assembly that will then choose a Prime Minister. Although voters were also meant to also choose the 60-member council tasked with drawing up the constitution, the interim ruling body - the National Transitional Council (NTC) - announced a separate election would take place to name this committee.
According to Election Commission Head Nouri al-Abar, 94 percent of polling stations in Tripoli were open and operating Saturday morning. However, he conceded many locations in the country's restive east did not open or were not operating after attacks by pro-autonomy groups.
In the city of Benghazi, the epicenter of the Libyan uprising's inception, militant groups attacked polling stations, burning ballots and ransacking offices. Similar violence was reported in Ajdabiya, Brega and Ras Lanouf.
Most experts say the violence is due to dissatisfaction in eastern Libya with the composition of the new national assembly. The Tripoli-based NTC alloted only 60 seats to candidates from the oil-rich east, compared with 102 for the west and sparsely populated south.
Some eastern Libyans even recently formed an interim regional council, espousing pro-autonomy ideologies and calling for a federalist state. And in violence in Benghazi on Friday, a UN election commission member was killed in gunfire attack on a UN helicopter.
UN Libya Envoy Ian Martin condemned the violence on Saturday, telling reporters in Tripoli "one should distinguish that willingness to disrupt the process from the much wider feeling in the east that it is being marginalized."
Martin added it would be up to the election commission whether elections would be re-run in eastern cities where voting was barred, but said the problems reported were not enough to undermine the overall credibility of the election.
Around 3,700 total candidates - among them 647 women - are running to grab a spot in the 200-member assembly. Of the total seats, 80 will go to members of political parties and 120 to individual candidates.
The most prominent political parties include the Justice and Development Party - associated with the Muslim Brotherhood - the Homeland Party and the National Forces Alliance.
Although election results will be incomplete even by Sunday, many pundits predict Mohamed Sowan's Justice and Development Party will dominate the elections, especially if Libya follows the pattern already set by Egypt and Tunisia in electing strong Islamist national legislatures.
When asked about possible results, U.S. Senator John McCain, in Libya to observe the elections, told reporters "so far all indications are that [the election] has been free and fair...I am confident in the judgment of the Libyan people today that they will be satisfied with the result of the election."
by RTT Staff Writer
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