Ex-Gadafy minister is likely leader of new coalition


ANALYSIS:Non-candidate Mahmoud Jibril featured prominently in his party’s campaign

FINAL RESULTS from Libya’s first national election in more than four decades are still days away but the country is abuzz with unofficial tallies that appear to indicate a strong performance by more liberal forces in the shape of a coalition led by a US-educated political scientist who served as minister under Muammar Gadafy.

Mahmoud Jibril, until last October interim prime minister in the National Transitional Council, yesterday played down reports that his National Forces Alliance (NFA) had secured a large proportion of the 80 seats in Libya’s new 200-strong national assembly set aside for party lists. The remaining 120 are allocated to individual candidates.

Many of those who ran for the individual seats are aligned with parties or other groupings, making it more difficult to predict the overall complexion of the assembly. Saturday’s election was held to select the assembly that will appoint another interim government ahead of parliamentary elections due to be held after a constitution is drafted.

On Sunday night Jibril said he was willing to bring together a coalition, which would include Islamist groups, to govern post-Gadafy Libya.

“We extend an honest call for a national dialogue to come altogether in one coalition, under one banner . . . This is an honest and sincere call for all political parties operating today in Libya,” he said at a press conference.

“In [the weekend] election there was no loser or winner . . . Whoever wins, Libya is the real winner.”

Jibril, who had been a divisive figure last year, was not a candidate in the election but his coalition appears to have garnered votes from a wide range of Libyan society.

His role as interim prime minister last year and high media profile ensured he was one of the most recognisable faces in the election campaign. He dominated NFA campaign posters and literature, despite the fact he was not running himself.

In recent months, he and his coalition employed more religious rhetoric in a bid to counter Islamists who sought to portray them as “liberal” or “secular” – terms often viewed negatively in conservative Libya. Though more liberal than its main rival the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Justice and Construction Party (JCP), which ran the largest number of candidates in Saturday’s election, it would be a mistake to describe the NFA itself as liberal. Like most other political entities participating in the ballot, it pledged to make sharia law a main source of legislation.

Jibril on Sunday described himself as occupying the political centre: “Some media are referring to [the NFA] as liberals,” he said. “That’s not true.”

Prominent Libyan Islamist Ali Sallabi described the NFA as having “talked like Islamists” during their election campaign. “The situation in Libya is different to Tunisia and Egypt because here the more liberal forces pledged loyalty to Islam and sharia,” he told The Irish Times. “We hope that what the NFA has said about the place of sharia will be reflected in the constitution and future legislation.”

Sallabi said Islamists would be willing to work with Jibril’s coalition in order to serve the country. “No single current can lead Libya, there must be cooperation,” he said. “My wish is to see Jibril succeed as his failure will affect everyone.”

Libya’s incoming government faces a host of challenges, including disarming the powerful militias that sprung up during last year’s revolution, addressing border and land disputes that have flared into violence, and placating federalists in the country’s eastern flank aggrieved over what they claim is marginalisation.

Jibril is disliked by the more Islamist-tinged militias in eastern Libya, who suspect his motives. “The biggest challenge now will be armed Islamists,” said one Islamist who ran as an independent candidate in the region. “The last person they trust is Mahmoud Jibril.” Jibril has indicated he is prepared to work with the Muslim Brotherhood- linked JCP. Before the election, its leader admitted in an interview with The Irish Times that the Muslim Brotherhood had an image problem in Libya. Gadafy painted the movement as dangerous and, because of his regime’s severe repression, it never managed to gain a deeper social foothold in Libya as it did in other parts of the region.

Dr Majda Fallah, who joined the Muslim Brotherhood while living in Dublin and who ran as a JCP candidate in Tripoli, acknowledged her party’s main rival appeared to be leading. “I think we did well for a first campaign,” she said. “Remember this is a new experience for all of us.”

* International observers yesterday declared Libya’s election a success, concluding that violent incidents and protests in the restive east failed to stop Libyans from turning out in large numbers. “It is remarkable that nearly all Libyans cast their ballot free from fear or intimidation,” Alexander Graf Lambsdorff of the European Union Assessment Team told a news conference.