Residents of the eastern Libyan city that served as the cradle of the uprising that toppled Moammar Gadhafi voted for a local council Saturday in the city's first elections since the longtime dictator's capture and killing last year.
More than 400 people were running for the 41 seats up for grabs on the local council of Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city. The vote for the city council was the first in Benghazi since the 1960s, and some of the voting centers Saturday were so crowded that they stayed open an extra hour to meet the rush of voters.
"I hope this election is genuine ... because the people of Benghazi deserve to live a good life after what they went through and the sacrifices they paid to get to this point," said Shoueb Idris, a 27 year-old oil engineer who is also a candidate in the race.
While there was little campaigning in the run-up to Saturday's vote, other than posters in the streets and announcements online, residents were enthusiastic about the vote.
"We never had the chance to say what we want for the past 40 years, but now we can decide our own destiny" said 45-year-old Wanees al-Majberi.
Results are expected on Monday.
Libya's third-largest city of Misrata voted for a local council in February, while a handful of smaller cities have as well. Elections for a national assembly are scheduled for June.
Since Gadhafi's ouster, the new government in Tripoli has struggled to impose its authority throughout the country or earn the wider trust of the people, especially in the east.
Top tribal leaders and commanders of militia groups in eastern Libya in March set up a semi-independent region named Barqa, leading to fears that Libya could fragment into several states. Barqa would have its own parliament, police force, courts and capital in Benghazi.
Leaders of the Barqa movement have called on residents in the east to boycott next months elections for a 200-seat parliament that would form a government and prepare for the country's new constitution. Leaders in the Benghazi say those elections are just another tool to "marginalize" the east.