TRIPOLI, Libya - A political coalition led by the former National Transitional Council’s de facto prime minister has claimed an early lead in Libya’s national election to replace the government of fallen longtime dictator Moammar Kadafi.
The National Forces Alliance, which appeals to secularists and moderate Islamist sensibilities, said that early exit polls showed it securing sizable majorities in the party vote for a national assembly. The coalition is headed by Mahmoud Jibril, an American-educated political scientist who once served as an economic advisor for Kadafi.
The NFA’s polling claims, made by Secretary General Faisal Krekshi, were backed up by the rival Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction Party.
“The National Forces Alliance achieved good results in some large cities except Misrata,” the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction Party’s Mohammed Sawan told AFP. “They have a net lead in Tripoli and in Benghazi.”
High National Election Commission officials refused to confirm Krekshi’s claims.
“We are all waiting and we have nothing to suggest that one party is ahead of others,” the commission’s head Nouri al-Abar told journalists.
Official results are expected later this week.
Election officials said about 60% of eligible voters turned out on Saturday for a vote that was largely incident-free and hailed by foreign observers as free and fair.
Eighty seats in the incoming congress are reserved for political parties, with 120 held for individual candidates. Similar to Egypt, many independent candidates were allied with political parties.
Polling took place in some 6,600 polling stations nationwide. Some voting continued through Sunday, due to logistical holdups.
Uniting the 200 congress members –- from disparate tribal and political backgrounds –- might not be easy, especially given the complex realities of Libya’s frayed social and political landscape.
“To get them to agree on common issues, it will not be easy,” said Hanan Salah of Human Rights Watch.
The assembly has to address key issues –- such as mass forced displacement –- and “find a durable solution to the disputes between population groups,” Salah added.
The exit polling suggests that more liberal forces might be better represented than in nearby nations that staged revolutions, Egypt and Tunisia, where Islamist parties have gained significant political clout over the last year, dominating parliament and, in Egypt’s case, ascending to the presidency.
However, Libya’s national assembly is a temporary body and to describe the NFA as “secular” is a misrepresentation: Its leaders do not believe in separation of religion and state.
The congress is tasked with appointing a new government and passing laws while paving the way for full parliamentary elections next year.
President Obama praised the elections, saying in a statement that the U.S. was committed to engaging as “partners” as Libyans work to “build open and transparent institutions, establish security and the rule of law, advance opportunity, and promote unity and national reconciliation.”
The congress was charged with selecting a panel of 60 experts to draft a constitution, yet this mandate was rescinded a day before Libyans flocked to polling stations –- in an apparent move to appease restive eastern protesters who feel under-represented in the national assembly and have demanded a federal system of governance.
-- Glen Johnson
Photo: Election Commission workers collect ballot boxes from Libyan polling stations as they prepare for final counting at Maatiga airport in Tripoli on Saturday. Credit: Mahmud Turkia / AFP / Getty Images.