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Page added on July 9, 2012
A coalition led by a Western-educated political scientist appeared on Sunday to be beating Islamist parties in Libya’s first election of the post-Qaddafi era, standing apart from an overwhelming Islamist wave sweeping across neighboring Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco in the aftermath of the Arab Spring uprisings.
The preliminary results, characterized by independent monitors and party representatives who witnessed the vote count for a new national assembly, may reflect the relative novelty of political debate here as well as the reputation and tribal connections of the coalition’s founder, Mahmoud Jibril. He is a member of Libya’s most populous tribe, the Warfalla, as well as the former interim prime minister who helped lead the de facto rebel government in Benghazi.
But Mr. Jibril and his coalition also stood out from other opponents of Islamists around the region because they did not hurl accusations of extremism against those who called for Islamic law. Like the Islamists and almost every other major faction here, Mr. Jibril’s coalition pledged to make Islamic law a main source of legislation, though not the only one.
Ideological lines remained fuzzy, and many voters acknowledged plans to let tribal or family ties guide their vote. But the Islamists sought to portray Mr. Jibril’s coalition as “liberal” or “secular” — and some who stood with him acknowledged privately that for them those terms were perfectly apt. But Mr. Jibril himself echoed a frequent refrain of Libyan voters who were unsure what to make of re-emergent groups like the Muslim Brotherhood: “Do they think they are more Muslim than we are?”
A former professor of political science who earned his doctoral degree and then taught at the University of Pittsburgh, Mr. Jibril said in a recent interview on Libyan television that his neighbors in either the United States or Libya would describe him as someone who “goes to the mosque for Friday prayers, and we see that he prays.”
“The Libyan people don’t need either liberalism or secularism or pretenses in the name of Islam, because Islam, this great religion, cannot be used for political purposes,” he said. “Islam is much bigger than that.”
The apparent success of his coalition inn outpolling the Muslim Brotherhood’s bloc makes Mr. Jibril perhaps the most important voice in the next stage of Libya’s political transition after the fall of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. That phase is expected to include the drafting of a new constitution.
Although his previous interim role barred him from personally seeking office in the planned national congress, his name appeared larger than that of his party or its candidates on campaign posters. His victory would complete a comeback for a leader who was pushed from office under pressure from rebels after the capture and killing of Colonel Qaddafi. They said Mr. Jibril had focused too much on courting Western support and had neglected domestic needs in rebel-controlled territory.
Several estimates indicate that in the portion of the planned national assembly that will be decided by the contest among parties, Mr. Jibril’s coalition, the National Forces Alliance, had won as much as 80 percent of the vote in the western region around Tripoli and more than 60 percent around Benghazi in the east. Mr. Jibril’s Warfalla tribe, which accounts for roughly one million of Libya’s six million people, is heavily represented in both regions.
The party that appeared to be running second, the bloc established by the Muslim Brotherhood, appeared to received only about 20 percent of the vote or less in both the Tripoli and Benghazi regions, the parties and election monitors said, indicating a trend that is likely to carry over into the competition between individual candidates. Another loosely Islamic party, one founded by Abdel Hakim Belhaj, a former leader of an armed insurgency here who became the head of Tripoli’s military council, also fell short in the voting. Though it had been expected to be a major competitor, it appeared to attract even less support than the Brotherhood’s bloc.
More official preliminary results are expected on Monday night, with final results expected perhaps as soon as the end of the week.
Libyans turned out to vote in great numbers on Saturday, defying expectations and, in some places, bullets to do so.
“We will vote for the fatherland whether there is shooting or not,” said Naema el-Gheryiene, 55, fixing a designer veil over her hair as she walked to a polling place here shortly after a gunman in a passing car had sprayed it with bullets. “Whoever dies for their country is a martyr, and even if there are explosions, we are going to vote.”
The voting was far from immaculate. Regional rivalries spilled out in armed assaults on polling places that forced the closing of several of them in the eastern coastal region. At least two people were killed in election-related violence, and tribal warfare around the southern city of Kufru kept some voting centers closed there as well.
But given the prevailing lawlessness in the nine months since Colonel Qaddafi’s killing, the relatively orderly election reported in most of the country surprised even the voters.
The interim government announced with pride that 94 percent of the polling places had opened despite the violence, and turnout was over 60 percent. And as vote-counting began Saturday night, joyful voters in cars jammed the streets of the major coastal cities of Tripoli, Benghazi and Misurata, honking madly, and waving ink-stained fingers in victory signs.
“It is the first time I ever felt this way — a feeling of freedom, and a feeling of victory,” said Juma el-Wani, 45, a water company worker lingering outside a polling place here.
Despite the jubilation, there was little sense of unity. Regional differences will continue to be n enduring question, no matter what government emerges.
Among Mr. Jibril’s most vocal opponents were the militia leaders from Misurata who emerged as a powerful force in the interim government because of their aggression in the fight against Colonel Qaddafi. Many Libyans also note that the Misurata tribe has a rivalry going back generations with Mr. Jibril’s Warfalla tribe, who killed a hero from Misurata during the pre-World War II fighting against the Italian occupation of Libya.
Reports from Misurata on Sunday indicated that it was one of the few major cities to reject Mr. Jibril’s party. Instead, early results indicated that the city had favored a new party founded by Abdurrahman Sewehli, a prominent descendant of that slain hero. Islamists did not appear to dominate there either.
Of 200 seats in the planned national assembly, about 80 will be allocated to a competition between the party lists, mainly in the major cities. The other 120 seats will be decided by races between individual candidates. Given the cursory nature of the campaign, local prominence or tribal connections are expected to play a more decisive role than ideology or party affiliation in deciding those seats.
But in interviews in several parts of the country in recent days, voters were far more likely to say that they planned to vote for Mr. Jibril than any other party or candidate.
Perhaps most tellingly, Mr. Jibril’s coalition dominated the voting even in the area of the eastern coast around Darnah, which is considered an Islamist stronghold, said Abdel Hakim el Hasadi, another former Islamist fighter who is a leading politician there.
In an interview on Sunday, Mr. Hasadi praised Mr. Jibril for reaching out to Islamists as well as other interest groups. Mr. Hasadi said Mr. Jibril had called just two days before the vote, and on Sunday Mr. Hasadi said he was planning a visit to Tripoli to discuss plans to work together.
Mr. Jibril — balding and portly, with a professorial style — is not considered a charismatic leader and has been a divisive figure.
He left his job as interim prime minister under a cloud. In addition to criticism that he failed to do enough for average Libyans, he was criticized for spending too much of his life in the United States, where he earned his doctorate at the University of Pittsburgh, and too much of the fight against Colonel Qaddafi jetting to foreign capitals.
Some also faulted him for his work before the uprising as the director of planning in the Qaddafi government. Mr. Jibril was a proponent of economic liberalization and was considered an ally of Colonel Qaddafi’s son Seif el-Islam. But he quit the Qaddafi government to form the self-appointed Transitional National Council as soon as the insurrection began, and his liberal image and political sophistication was vital to securing the Western military support that ultimately enabled the rebels to oust Colonel Qaddafi.