It's been less than nine months since the downfall of Moammar Gadhafi, the dictator who ruled Libya for 42 years and left it with no recognizable political institutions, no rule of law, and no established political parties. Given that history, and the predictions that NATO's support for last year's rebellion against the Gadhafi regime would produce Somalia-like chaos in the oil-producing state, last weekend's general election was a remarkable achievement.
Election authorities said 1.8 million voters -- a turnout of 65 percent -- cast ballots for an interim National Assembly in which 3,700 candidates competed for 200 seats. There were irregularities and episodes of violence, but more than 90 percent of election stations opened.
The initial results were encouraging. A centrist alliance led by former interim prime minister Mahmoud Jibril appeared to have won a plurality, besting Libya's branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist factions.
Mr. Jibril, a political scientist, is seen as a pro-Western moderate. He rejects the labels "liberal" and "secular," but seems committed to democratic principles. He has offered to form a coalition with the country's other political forces. Some of his opponents welcome the proposal.
The new assembly, which is to form an 18-month interim government, faces big challenges. Parts of Libya are controlled by armed militias that answer to no central authority.
Clashes between Arab and non-Arab peoples afflict the sparsely populated south. Regional rivalries threaten to derail the constitution-writing process.
Originally empowered to write the new charter, the assembly was stripped of that authority days before the election, in response to protests from the eastern region. In that context, Mr. Jibril's initiative to form a broad coalition seems prudent.
Libya's principal political forces may not have major ideological disagreements. There seems to be a consensus that Islamic sharia law should be one source of the constitution, but not the only one. The biggest political challenges may be determining the degree of federalism in the new state, and fairly distributing the country's bounteous oil revenue among its 6 million people.
That will be easier if the government can impose its authority across Libya. It will have to disarm militias or integrate them with official security forces, and free prisoners from irregular detention.
The United States and its NATO allies could help. Libyan officials have repeatedly sought assistance with reorganizing and training the army and police forces.
NATO's intervention in Libya paved the way for last week's landmark election. Now the Obama Administration and its allies should help the new authorities attain their goal of a democratic Libya.
-- Washington Post