LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
In Libya, vote counting continues after a largely peaceful vote over the weekend to elect the country's national assembly. This is the first election in decades. Few Libyans are old enough to remember the parliamentary elections under the king, who ruled before Moammar Gadhafi.
Exit polls suggest that the liberal National Forces Alliance Party is leading over Islamist groups, such as Libya's Muslim Brotherhood. Dirk Vandewalle is a Libya scholar and associate professor of government at Dartmouth College. He joined us from Tripoli to talk about this historic vote.
DIRK VANDEWALLE: Good morning.
MONTAGNE: So after a violent revolution, less than nine months since the fall of Moammar Gadhafi, it appears to have been a successful democratic election: rather high turnout, only a few incidents of violence.
VANDEWALLE: Yes. This has been truly remarkable. I think even seasoned observers had expected that this country would perhaps have a long civil war. And so to see these elections so closely after the fall of Gadhafi has truly been outstanding. But furthermore, I think a lot of us were frankly quite surprised both by the professionalism and certainly by the turnout and the way the political life here in Libya is starting to shape up at this point.
MONTAGNE: And also, what appear to be the results, because certainly during the campaign, it appeared that Islamist groups were certainly strong. Talk to us about the National Forces Alliance, and in particular, the man who leads it, Mahmoud Jibril.
VANDEWALLE: The National Alliance is really, as the name implies, an alliance of roughly about 40 smaller political parties that represent a wide range of ideological opinion. And it is headed by Mahmoud Jibril, and Jibril has a very interesting history.
He was, at one point, a minister under the Gadhafi regime. He was responsible for implementing the national economic plan after 2003, and then defected very early on in the civil war. And he is Western-educated, has a PhD from an American university, and has really emerged as somebody that can rattle the divisions within Libya.
And it looks now like the Islamists have effectively lost to that liberal alliance. But this is only the early days, of course. And I think it's important to understand that these elections will create a 200-person assembly of which only 80 seats actually go to political parties, and 120 seats go the individuals. So what we're talking about here is, in effect, only party votes. We don't know yet how many of the individual votes will pledge their support to Jibril or to other political parties.
MONTAGNE: Well, even though it is early and since you can't talk about the individuals yet, talk to us a bit about why you think that the Islamists came out rather badly in this election. Are they weak in Libya in a way that they are not, say, in Egypt?
VANDEWALLE: There is an important historical dimension to this. Most of the Islamic parties were heavily repressed under Gadhafi and have never really taken root substantially here in Libya's political life.
But I think there's also another dimension, and that is that a lot of Libyans are quite suspicious of any group that would want to impose a certain political agenda upon them, and certainly would not be very happy, I think, with an Islamist party doing the same thing.
So there is that historical dimension that also is very much in the nationalist streak in Libya, and that essentially says, you know, we want to vote. We want - we no longer want to have a strong leader like Gadhafi had, and we certainly don't want anybody to tell us how we should behave. And so therefore, I think, the Islamists have been much less strong than everybody anticipated.
MONTAGNE: When will it be clear exactly who has won, what the numbers are and what the general assembly is composed of?
VANDEWALLE: The national electoral commission has promised a count that should be finished by the end of this week. We should have completely results both for the parties and for the individual candidates.
MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.
VANDEWALLE: My pleasure.
MONTAGNE: Dirk Vandewalle teaches government at Dartmouth and is the author of "A History of Modern Libya." He spoke to us from Tripoli. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.