Final results released Tuesday placed a liberal alliance ahead of other parties in Libya's first free nationwide vote in half a century, leaving Islamists far behind, but each side is already trying to build a coalition with independents.
It appeared to be a rare Arab Spring setback for Islamists, who won elections in Egypt and Tunisia — but the structure of the parliament, heavy with independent members, left the final outcome uncertain.
The election is a major step for a country emerging from 42 years of Moammar Gadhafi's one-man rule. It also marks the end for the interim National Transitional Council, which has been running Libya with varying degrees of success since Gadhafi was overthrown and killed last year.
The election commission said former interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril's National Forces Alliance won 39 seats, or nearly half of those allocated for parties.
The Muslim Brotherhood's Justice and Construction party came in second with 17 seats. Smaller factions won the other 24 seats set aside for parties.
Only one woman won a seat as an independent, according to the final results announced late Tuesday in the capital, Tripoli. Unofficial returns showed about 33 women winning seats in the parties section.
In a surprise result, the Islamist National Party, led by ex-jihadist and former rebel commander Abdel-Hakim Belhaj, won no seats.
The balance of power lies with the 120 seats set aside for independent candidates, some of whom are likely affiliated unofficially with parties.
The 200-seat National Assembly will be tasked with forming a new government to replace the NTC's Cabinet.
An early test will be a decision on whether to uphold a decree by the NTC for another election to select a 60-member panel to write a new constitution — or revert to the original plan and choose the panel itself.
The power brokering began even before the official results were announced.
Jibril's alliance and Islamists, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, are competing for the allegiances of independent candidates, hoping to bring them into ruling coalitions.
Jibril's alliance beat Islamist parties by tens of thousands of votes, most notably in the country's two largest cities, Tripoli and Benghazi.
Analysts say that Libyans looking for a strong figure to lead the country saw in Jibril a recognizable face. He was a senior official and economist in the former regime before joining the uprising, where he served as the interim prime minister for almost eight months. He was not a candidate for parliament himself because election laws banned members of the NTC from running.
Jibril's party is comprised of dozens of parties and civil society groups. In its political platform, the alliance states that Islamic Shariah law should be the main source of legislation, but adds that the state must respect all religions and sects.
The wide margin between Jibril's liberal alliance and the Islamist parties signaled that Libyans are not comfortable with a parliament dominated by Islamists.
The transition period has been unstable, even violent at times. The NTC was unable to form a strong army and police force or impose its authority over much of the country, leaving rival militias, heavily armed after the civil war, in control of large swaths of territory, often clashing with each other.
Hamada Siyala, the spokesman for the alliance, suggested Islamists should not be left out.
"We call for the formation of a unity government. The coming stage is a national one that calls for all efforts and participation from all Libyans," he told The Associated Press. "We consider the other participants (in the election) as partners, not enemies."
Nearly 2.9 million Libyans, or 80 percent of Libyans eligible to vote, had registered to vote.
The election commission said 62 percent of the eligible voters, or around 1.7 million, cast their ballots in the race that had 3,700 candidates running for seats. Nearly 40 percent of the voters were women.
The central city of Misrata, one of the most severely hit during the civil war, was the only constituency out of 13 nationwide where Jibril's alliance did not place first. A local political party won there. Residents have a longtime enmity with Jibril's Warfala tribe — a sign that tribal influences still hold sway, whatever the makeup of the new government.
Analyst Fathi Ben-Essa said the behavior of the independent members might reflect those tendencies.
"The end product is that not a single group will secure a majority. They all need each other because they all have militias in the streets, and this is the reality."
The unequal distribution of seats in parliament among eastern, western and southern Libya sparked calls for election boycotts by leaders in the east, where some leaders have declared their region a semi-autonomous state.
Tripoli and the west were given 100 seats for seats in parliament, while 60 were allocated for Benghazi and the east and 40 for the southwest. The east, where the uprising originated, complains that Tripoli is still trying to dominate.
There were some incidents of violence at polling centers ahead of the vote. Armed men stormed polling centers in the east and torched ballot boxes. However, by the end of election day, most of the polling centers had opened.
Michael reported from Cairo. Additional reporting by Aya Batrawy in Cairo.