09-26-2021  2:05 pm   •   PDX and SEA Weather
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Jomana Karadsheh and Michael Pearson CNN

TRIPOLI, Libya (CNN) -- As Libyans await preliminary results of the country's first parliamentary elections in decades, expected Monday, "signs of state-building are ever so slowly starting to emerge" from post-revolutionary chaos, experts said.

But it still could be years -- generations even -- before the revolution that toppled Moammar Gadhafi from power will bear fruit.

"The election is providing one thing only, legitimacy," said Fadel Lamen, president of the American-Libyan Council. "Everything else, all the problems, all the challenges, will still be there the morning after."

Dartmouth University professor Dirk Vandewalle said signs that Libya is beginning to turn the corner abound.

"Schools and businesses are reopening. Ministries are being reorganized and are starting to make and implement policy," said Vandewalle, author of "A History of Modern Libya."

"Most importantly, the power of the militias is very slowly but inexorably being eroded," he said.

The nation's judiciary is even starting to flex its muscle, Vandewalle said, noting it recently overturned a law that seemed aimed at restricting free expression.

More than 1.7 million Libyans -- roughly 60% of the nation's 2.8 million registered voters -- cast ballots Saturday in the nation's first parliamentary elections in more than four decades, according to Nuri Khalifa Al-Abbar, chairman of Libya's High National Election Commission.

About 3,500 candidates were running for 200 seats.

The tallying of ballots began shortly after voting closed Saturday, though more were added to the mix Sunday when eight polling stations were opened after violence on election day stopped voters from casting ballots.

Sunday's voting figures were not immediately available.

While preliminary results are expected Monday, final results are not likely to be announced before the end of the week at the earliest, the state-run LANA news agency reported.

It will likely take weeks or even months for the winners to form an effective coalition government, said Lamen, who just returned from a visit to Libya.

The parliamentary vote is a litmus test for Libya in the era after Gadhafi, who dismantled many of the civic institutions common to democratic states during his years in power.

The election came 17 months after political demonstrations against Gadhafi broke out in two Libyan cities. Those demonstrations spread, leading to a civil war, NATO airstrikes and Gadhafi's death by a bullet to the head in October.

While Gadhafi's death ended much of the violence, unrest continues in parts of the country, particularly the south and the west, and the government has not been able to completely contain the militias that helped overthrow the former leader.

But the government has proved capable of responding to such crises, Vandewalle said: Authorities were able to disarm the militia that took over Tripoli's airport on June 4, forced attackers out of the prime minister's office and removed protesters who had blocked access to a state-owned oil company.

Whether the government will be able to forge a long-term solution to the country's regionally based militias is another matter, Lamen said.

"Having a central solution to a local problem most of the time doesn't work," he said.

Libyan leaders will instead have to work with local councils who have the power to rein in the militias.

At the same time, those leaders are likely to face difficulties from mid-level bureaucrats in their own government agencies, many of whom are holdovers from Gadhafi's rule. Work stoppages have not been uncommon, Lamen said.

Many Libyans seem ready to put the revolution behind them, Vandewalle said, noting an encounter he had with a man whitewashing graffiti on the walls of Tripoli's old city.

"Enough," Vandewalle quoted the man as saying when asked why he was going to the trouble. "Libya is moving on."

The last time Libya held an election was almost half a century ago and, for many people, the act of casting a ballot was novel after 42 years of Gadhafi's rule. Ruling has proved similarly unfamiliar, Vandewalle said.

"It would be utterly impossible to construct in only a few months all the institutions of a modern, properly functioning state Gadhafi destroyed in his pursuit of statelessness for 42 years," he said.

"Building a state and a nation takes time, ideas, compromise and leadership -- particularly difficult if, as in Libya, the social and political landscape after the civil war was essentially a tabula rasa, and none of those qualities now needed to construct a modern state were in demand during the Gadhafi period," Vandewalle said.

Once seated, the new national assembly will be tasked with appointing a transitional government and crafting a constitution.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon congratulated the Libyan people on the election and hailed the electoral staff for "well-conducted and transparent" polling.

"Last year, thousands of Libyans sacrificed their lives or suffered lasting injury in order to win the right of the Libyan people to build a new state founded on human dignity and the rule of law," Ban said in a statement Sunday.

"Yesterday, their determination was again on display as men and women, young and old, cast their ballots, many with deep emotion, even in some areas where they faced threats to their security."

This story is based on reporting by CNN's Jomana Karadsheh in Tripoli and Michael Pearson and Moni Basu in Atlanta.


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