TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Liberal parties held a lead Wednesday in partial results from Libya's first parliamentary election, on the same day that the head of the interim government stated his country would not be ruled by Islamists.
Up to now Islamists have taken leadership roles in other countries that experienced Arab Spring revolts, like Egypt and Tunisia.
The overthrow of longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi left Libya without a cohesive regime. Gadhafi, who was captured and killed in October, opposed democracy in Libya and ruled virtually by himself. Saturday's election was a major step toward reform.
Libyans went to the polls to elect a National Assembly that will name a new government.
Partial results released by the election commission show that the Alliance of National Forces, a coalition of liberals led by former Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, maintains a lead. Jibril was the international face of the opposition during the uprising last year.
According to the official results, the liberal alliance finished far ahead of the Muslim Brotherhood's Justice and Construction Party in the eastern city of Benghazi, the country's second largest and the birthplace of the uprising. It also beat out Islamist parties in western cities as far away as the country's border with Tunisia.
Some 2.7 million Libyans, making up more than 60 percent of eligible voters, cast their ballots for the first time in more than five decades on Saturday in the first nationwide vote since the downfall of Gadhafi.
"What happened in Libya was a miracle," National Transitional Council chief Mustafa Abdul-Jalil told The Associated Press. "People's choices of the assembly are excellent and nationalist."
Despite the early signs of democracy in Libya, Abdul-Jalil cautioned that Libya will need at least five years to move beyond the legacy of tribal warfare and rogue militias left in the wake of the uprising.
"If they continue to battle and strike the chord of tribalism ... it will take much longer," he said.
The transitional government has been unable to bring rival militias under the umbrella of a national force. Instead, they often battle each other while maintaining control of many segments of the country.
Assessing the partial election totals, Abdul-Jalil said Islamists would play a role in the country's politics, but Libya would not follow in the footsteps of its neighbors, Tunisia and Egypt, where Islamist parties won power in elections after uprisings last year.
The early results have prompted some of the Libyan Islamist parties to reach out to independents to try to form a counter-alliance to Jibril's coalition.
Mohammed Gair, a leading member of the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood, admitted to the AP that the performance of the parties "fell below our expectations."
"We thought they would do better than this," he said. "We are working now on forming an alliance to have the biggest bulk in the assembly."
Countering that, Jibril was working on pushing his liberal alliance into an even broader coalition that could agree on the membership of a new government after the transitional council is dissolved.
Jibril hoped for as wide a coalition as possible. Speaking a day after the election, he told reporters, "There is no space for exclusion in the new Libya."