Voters flocked to cast their ballots Saturday in Libya’s first free national election in decades after the ouster of dictator Moamer Kadhafi, despite protests disrupting some polling in the restive east.
Gunmen killed one person and wounded another near a polling station in the eastern city of Ajdabiya, an official told AFP, a day after an election worker died when a helicopter carrying election materials was also targeted.
In the capital, long queues formed of people keen to elect the General National Congress, which will steer Libya through a transition period.
“Words cannot capture my joy, this is a historic day,” said Fawziya Omran, 40, voting in a school in the heart of Tripoli.
Some voters sported black, red and green flags — the colours of the revolution that toppled Kadhafi last year.
Joy was also palpable in the eastern city of Benghazi, cradle of the revolt.
Protesters unhappy over the east’s share of seats in the new assembly had earlier targeted polling centres and also forced oil facilities to shut down ahead of the election.
The make-up of the congress being elected has been a matter of heated debate, with factions such as the federalist movement calling for more seats.
The outgoing National Transitional Council (NTC) says seats were distributed according to demographics, with 100 going to the west, 60 to the east and 40 to the south.
But factions in the east, which was marginalised under Kadhafi, want an equal split and had threatened to sabotage the vote if their demand was not met.
The authorities dismiss such groups as a minority.
Libya has not seen national elections since the era of the late king Idris, whom Kadhafi deposed in a bloodless coup in 1969.
Political parties were banned as an act of treason during Kadhafi’s iron-fisted rule. Now there are 142 parties fielding candidates.
A total of 80 seats are reserved for party candidates while 120 seats are open to individual candidates. Altogether, 3,707 candidates are standing in 72 districts nationwide.
From the parties, the coalition of ex-revolution prime minister Mahmud Jibril is seen as a key contender among liberals, facing stiff competition from two Islamist parties — Justice and Development and Al-Wattan.
The winds of the Arab Spring that ushered Islamists into power in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt may well bring about the same result in Libya.