Libya's Islamists suffered a major defeat on their eastern hometurf with preliminary results Wednesday giving a net advantage to a liberal coalition contesting party seats.
In the eastern city of Benghazi -- cradle of the revolt that toppled Moamer Kadhafi last year -- the liberal National Forces Alliance took 95,733 votes against 16,143 for the Islamist Justice and Construction Party (JCP).
Libyans on Saturday cast their votes for a General National Congress, a legislative assembly of 200 members, the first elected government after more than four decades of dictatorship under Kadhafi.
The world is keen to see whether Libya, a conservative Muslim country with no significant minorities, will buck the trend of the Arab Spring, which has brought Islamists to power in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt.
The Benghazi figures reflect preliminary results of Libya's electoral commission and do not guarantee that liberals will dominate the incoming Congress, which allocates most seats to independents.
In another district grouping four towns in the east, including Al-Bayda, the NFA, which is led by wartime premier Mahmud Jibril, snatched 47,551 votes, while the JCP came a distant third with only 4,790 votes.
Similar margins were documented Tuesday in a district grouping Darna, a stronghold of radical Islamist groups, Quba and Tobruk in the east. There the NFA had a six-fold advantage over the JCP -- 57,234 compared to 8,333.
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A total of 120 seats in the assembly are reserved for independents, who stand to tilt the balance of power, while the remaining 80 seats have been set aside for party list candidates.
Results are being rolled out district by district in a complex counting system that needs to measure the performance of both the individual candidates and candidates fielded by political entities.
The race for parties follows the proportional system, in which seats of the congress will be distributed among political entities in roughly the same proportion as the votes cast for that party.
This system gives a chance for Islamists to squirrel away some seats in the assembly even if they come a distant second.
Independents, courted by both parties as potential allies, may determine the orientation of the next congress.
On Tuesday, Mohammed Sawan, head of the JCP which was spawned by the Muslim Brotherhood, said he expected Islamists to dominate the next congress by forming alliances with like-minded independents.
"We expect to have a very large presence in the congress," he said.
NFA Secretary General Faisal Krekshi said Wednesday that his coalition, based on the figures released so far, expected to gain at least half of the seats, banking on 55 party seats and 45 allied independents.
The alliance, he said, is a non-ideological movement which is open to a broad spectrum of parties that only demands patriotism and a commitment to rebuild the country on the basis of knowledge and experience.