Libya's interim premier Mahmoud Jibril speaks during a news conference in Benghazi. Photo: Esam Omran Al-Fetori

TRIPOLI - Libya's wartime prime minister Mahmoud Jibril extended his lead in the North African country's landmark elections, partial vote tallies showed on Wednesday, as Islamist rivals tried to bolster their score by striking deals with independent candidates.

Jibril's National Forces Alliance headed for a landslide win in the eastern district covering the towns of Tobruk and Derna, seen as a hardline Islamist stronghold, suggesting his support was broader than urban areas such as the capital Tripoli.

He was also leading in Sabha, the main town of the desert south. Justice and Construction, the political arm of Libya's Muslim Brotherhood, led in the central town of Shati – one of the few areas where Jibril's alliance did not stand.

Libya's first free national vote in six decades has been hailed as a success by observers despite election-day violence that claimed at least two lives.

Analysts say Jibril has benefited from his prominence as one of the main figures of last year's uprising to end 42 years of dictatorship under Muammar Gaddafi, and is perceived by many Libyans as a safe pair of hands for rebuilding the economy.

Many of the candidates of Justice and Construction were either less well known or were hamstrung by local perceptions that their party has ties with Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, clashing with a strong local sense of national sovereignty.

However Jibril's gains will not automatically translate into dominance of the 200-seat interim national assembly which is set to choose a prime minister and cabinet before setting the stage for full parliamentary elections in 2013.

Candidates on party lists have only been allotted 80 seats, meaning they will be outnumbered by independent candidates whose allegiances are hard to pin down and who may strike deals with Islamist parties.

Western Mountains independent candidate Abu Bakr Abdel-Gader told Reuters he had been approached by Justice and Construction and offered a position in the party – an offer he turned down.

“I refused to join the JCP. I didn't fight a revolution and carry bloodied martyrs from the front line for Islamists to take over and close us off from the world again,” he said. “Libyans are ready to experience democracy and only educated liberals with a world view can bring it.”

Party strategists on Wednesday declined to give estimates of the number of seats they expected to have in the assembly, saying they could start to have a better idea later in the day.

The national election commission initially said it would have preliminary results ready by Wednesday but even partial votes for the majority of districts in Tripoli or the second city, Benghazi, have not been released. – Reuters