The voting for a 200-seat legislature is being held amid intense regional, tribal and ideological rivalries. However, lines began to form outside polling centers more than an hour before they were scheduled to open in the capital Tripoli.
Policemen and army soldiers were guarding the centers, searching voters as well as election workers. "I have a strange but beautiful feeling today," said dentist Adam Thabet, waiting outside a polling center in the capital Tripoli.
"We are free at last after years of fear. We knew this day was coming, but we were afraid it could take long to come."
Libya's election is the latest fruit of Arab Spring revolts against authoritarian leaders. It is likely to be dominated by Islamist parties of all shades, a similar outcome to elections held in the country's neighbors Egypt and Tunisia, which had had their own, though much less bloody, uprisings.
There are four major contenders in the race, ranging from a Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated party and another Islamist coalition on one end of the spectrum to a secular-minded party led by a Western-educated former rebel prime minister on the other.
"This is history in the making," declared 26-year-old medic Farid Fadil as he waited to vote outside a polling center in Tripoli. "We were ruled by a man who saw himself as the state."
In the oil-rich east, where there is a thriving autonomy movement, calls for a boycott and pre-election violence have cast a shadow over the vote. Today, protesters torched ballot boxes in 14 out of 19 polling centers in the eastern town of Ajdabiya, according to former rebel commander in the area Ibrahim Fayed.
But in Tripoli, voters celebrated. Libyans flashed the "V" for victory sign as they entered polling centers. Motorists honked their horns as they drove past to greet the voters lined outside.