Jubilant Libyans chose a new parliament Saturday in their first nationwide vote in decades, but violence and protests in the restive east underscored the challenges ahead as the oil-rich North African nation struggles to restore stability after last year’s ouster of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Women ululated, while men distributed sweets and the elderly with canes or wheelchairs struggled to get to polling centers in a show of joy over the most visible step toward democracy since the eccentric ruler was killed by rebel forces in late October after months of bitter civil war. “Look at the lines. Everyone came of his and her own free will. I knew this day would come and Gadhafi would not be there forever,” said Riyadh al-Alagy, a 50-year-old civil servant in Tripoli. “He left us a nation with a distorted mind, a police state with no institutions. We want to start from zero.”
But attacks on polling centers in the east — where anger over perceived domination by rivals in the west is fueling a drive for autonomy — laid bare the rifts threatening to tear the nation apart. Still the election for a 200-seat parliament, which will be tasked with forming a new government, was the latest milestone in a revolution stemming from the Arab Spring revolts that led to the successful ouster of authoritarian leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and later Yemen.
Nearly 2.9 million Libyans, or 80 percent of Libyans eligible to vote, have registered for the election and more than 3,000 candidates have plastered the country with posters and billboards. Electoral officials said turnout was 60 percent and counting of the ballots had begun. “We are celebrating today and we want the whole world to celebrate with us,” Prime Minister Abdurrahim el-Keib said after he cast his ballot in Tripoli.