ibyans streamed to the polls amid a celebratory atmosphere for their first chanc e to steer their country's political

future since Moammar Gadhafi seized power i n 1969â and since the popular uprising that ousted the dictator nearly nine months ag o. "This is the day that we fix the past," said Maryem El-Barouni, a 23-year-old me dical student, referring to the legacy of economic decay and dictatorship, who w as among the first voters in the capital Saturday morning. "We've come through a very bad period. This is our chance to feel freedom." Election Day Photos View Slideshow Manu Brabo/Associated Press A woman voted in Tripoli. The vote to select a new national congress is expected to curb the expanding inf luence of Islamic parties, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, that have come to dom inate the political landscape in post-Arab Spring countries like Tunisia and Egy pt. As in its two neighbors, the role of religion in Libya has played a prominen t spot in political campaigning across the countryâ especially among the handful of n ational party blocs fielding candidates across the country. But Libya's new, complex election rules favor independent candidates focused on local concerns, rather than parties and their fixed ideologies. Official results from the polls aren't expected for several days, but election observers say a l ikely outcome is a governing body dominated by a patchwork of local candidates r epresenting far-flung constituencies, rather than party blocs. Voters are selecting members of a new General National Congress, which will repl ace the unelected National Transitional Council, the caretaker authority run by dissidents and rebel chiefs who led the battle to oust the longtime dictator las t year. Previously Libya Girds for Vote The body will oversee the drafting of a new constitution, a process that is like ly to last around six months. It is meant to give the oil-rich nation of six mil lion people a road map to dismantling the centralized power structures built by Gadhafi, which favored certain tribes and regions and neglected others. The assembly will have total governing authority over the country's oil wealth, infrastructure, foreign policy and security until the constitution is approved i n a national referendum, which will decide the structure of a new government. But the power comes with a poisoned barb: It will also inherit the lawlessness, dysfunctional state institutions and outdated state-run enterprises that were th e hallmark of Gadhafi's economy. Although Libya has weathered months of lawlessness and security challenges since Gadhafi's downfall, the vote moved forward in a relatively smooth fashion in ne arly all of the roughly 1,500 polling stations across the vast, oil-rich nation, according to election officials. Nouri al-Abar, the head of the election commission, told reporters in Tripoli th at 94% of polling centers nationwide were open but acknowledged that "security c

Two polling stations in the small eastern towns of Ajdabiya and Brega shut down briefly Saturday morning when armed men stormed the building and stole ballot ma terials.onditions" prevented ballots from reaching some areas and ballots were destroyed in other cases. Cars festooned with the new Libyan flag paraded th rough downtown streets." Ms. but had struggled over finding enough information to make informed choices among the dozens of po liticians on the ballot. It's the first ste p towards real justice and democracy. The novelty of electionsâ Gadhafi outlawed political parties as bourgeois and corruptâ the crowded field mean that there aren't any clear front-runners. The violence came after a week of tensions across eastern Libya where a small group demanding greater representation for their region has called for a boycott of the polls. a 31-year-old businessman who spent his whole life under Gadhaf i's rule." he said. Many independent candidates are well-known businessmen. she said. she said. was one of approximately 50 women waiting to v ote in the middle-class district of Hay Andoulous early Saturday morning. like improving education and job training. About 80% of eligible voters have registered to cast ballots. Since the Gadhafi-era media infrastructure has yet to be replaced by any nati onal news outlets. the medical student. given the deep vacuum of leadership fost ered by decades of the former dictator's rule. Across the capital Tripoli. eager to try their hand at representative politic s. Neighbors brought breakfast pastries and sweets to the polling stations hand out to others in line with them. residents were exuberant about the chance to partici pate in the next step of their political future. according to election ob servers there. "Not many Libyan [politicians] know anyth ing about our hopes and our needs. They were enthusiastic about participating in the vote. They used Facebook pages of candidates as well as television debates featuring would-be politicians to make up their minds. She finally settled on a regional party that has a heavy contingent of women can didates and that has promised to focus on the problems facing young people. Two generations of her family were voting for the first time in their lives. had tears in his eyes as he stepped out of his polling station in the neighborhood of Abu Salim. Ms. Some 1 30 parties have formed. Barouni says her elderly mother relied extensively on her children to educat e her about the patchwork of candidates and parties that have emerged over the p ast several weeks during the rushed campaign season. Ms. Close to 4. He didn't provide further details. "I never thought I'd see this day.000 can didates are vying for the 200 seats of the new Congress. lesser-known artists or members of prominent families. Barouni. few candidates are known outside their local areas or even be yond their extended families or employees. Jamal Al-Jidlik. of which 120 are reserv ed for independent candidates and 80 will be filled by political parties. Many voters h ave focused on candidates' credibility. the tensions didn't appear to affect turnout in the main eastern city o f Benghazi. where last year's popular uprising started. Barouni said. and . However. though few have national reach.

th e head of the rebel government.Some newly formed national political parties. These parties spent the short campaign period trying to bolster name recognition and credibility through local campaign events like visits to neighborhood youth soccer clubs and charities. however. The Justice and Development Party. however. or restrict people's persona l lives. as has the country's oldest dissident group known for its d ecades of anti-Gadhafi activity. The National Front. is perceive d as ultraconservative. the Brotherhood-affiliated group. a rival party whose members are among the nation's most resp ected dissidents. as can be found in Saudi Arabia. The Libyan branch of the Muslim Brotherhood has also formed a party. has tried to leverage a wide current of suspicion against the Muslim Brotherhood and position itself as the party . its leaders say the group doesn't want to creat e morality police. Libyans debated the role religion wi ll have in their political future. are well-financed and hav e registered members to run in districts across the country. Like citizens of other Arab Spring nations. Among them is an umbrella coalition of liberal parties led by Mahmoud Jibril.