Libya's Islamists said on Tuesday they should be able to control the new national congress through alliances with like-minded independents even though liberals appear to be doing well in seats reserved for parties.
Preliminary results of Libya's first election since last year's fall of Moamer Kadhafi suggest that the National Forces Alliance (NFA), a broad coalition of parties rallying behind wartime prime minister Mahmud Jibril, will leave Islamist parties in the dust on the party side.
But parties will hold only 80 out of 200 seats in the incoming congress, with the remainder open to individual candidates, some of whom are genuine independents and others who have ties to specific parties.
"We expect to have a very large presence in the congress," said Mohammed Sawan, head of the Justice and Construction Party, an Islamist party spawned by the Muslim Brotherhood.
"Preliminary results (which appear to give the liberal coalition a net advantage) reflect only 40 percent of seats. But early figures show that the coalition has no presence in the remaining 120 seats," he added.
"Jibril's party is one of the parties that we have the least in common with," he said when asked whether he would be willing to work with the liberal coalition in the next congress.
On Sunday, Jibril urged all parties to join national unity talks.
The electoral commission is still tabulating results of Saturday's historic elections, the first national polls after decades of dictatorship under Moamer Kadhafi, who was toppled by a popular uprising last year.
Results are being rolled out district by district in a complex counting system that needs to measure the performance of individual candidates as well as those of political entities.
Sami Zaptia, editor of the Libya Herald, said it will take a long time to assess the election's results because the majority of individual candidates are local personalities whose alliances and ideological positions are unclear.
"It is very difficult to read individual candidates," he stressed.
"Everyone is waiting to find out what the independent results will bring and whether they will swing the congress towards one party or the other. It's still a mystery."
The Islamists, he added, were surprised that their party list candidates did not perform as well as they had initially anticipated.
"They were encouraged by what happened in Egypt and Tunisia, thinking it was a wave that would carry them through," he said in reference to recent elections in the neighbouring countries, which brought Islamists to power.
The NFA has won crushing victories in three western constituencies, according to the electoral commission's preliminary results, while unofficial tallies by local media gave it it a winning edge in Benghazi.
The electoral commission on Tuesday unveiled fresh figures which gave the NFA a sweeping victory in the eastern cities of Darna, a stronghold of extremist groups, Quba and Tobruk.
In the preliminary tally for the district comprising those three cities, the NFA scored 57,234, while the JCP was a distant second with 8,333. Darna, Tobruk and Quba have been allocated five party seats in the national assembly of 200.
Vast margins also separated the NFA (7,576 votes) from the JCP (third with 2,241 vote) in the southern desert city of Sabha, where four assembly seats are up for grabs.
Islamists are quick to point out that they still stand a chance of scooping some party seats with preliminary results so far reflecting roughly half of the electoral districts.
The NFA is a non-ideological coalition grouping more than 60 small parties. In a strikingly confident address on Sunday, Jibril, who played a prominent role as rebel premier during last year's revolt against Kadhafi, invited other parties to national unity talks.
"We extend an honest call for a national dialogue to all come together in one coalition, under one banner ... to reach a compromise, a consensus on which the constitution can be drafted and the new government can be composed," he said.
"There was no loser and winner at all. Whoever is going to win, Libya is the real winner of those elections," Jibril added.
UN leader Ban Ki-moon on Monday called for Libya's new leaders to govern in a spirit of "justice and reconciliation" as he hailed the elections.
Brahim Saad, secretary general of the National Front, an Islamist party close to the Muslim Brotherhood, recognised ideological differences would need to be set aside for the sake of national interest.
"We have important deadlines," he said, declining to comment on whether his party was open to joining a coalition led by Jibril.
"We must find common denominators that unite all who participated in the current elections. The question of ideologies will vanish in the General National Congress. National interest will triumph."
Libyans voted for the congress, a 200-member legislative assembly that will steer the country through a transition. Turnout was above 60 percent, the electoral commission said.