Coalition led by Western-educated Mahmoud Jibril appeared poised to defeat Islamists.
BENGHAZI, LIBYA - A coalition led by a Western-educated political scientist appeared Sunday to be beating Islamist parties in Libya's first election in the post-Gadhafi era, breaking an Islamist wave that swept across Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco after the Arab Spring uprisings.
The preliminary results, characterized by independent monitors and party representatives who witnessed the vote counting for a new national assembly, reflect in part the well-known name and tribal connections of the coalition's founder, Mahmoud Jibril. He is a former interim prime minister who helped lead the de facto rebel government in Benghazi, and he is also a member of Libya's most populous tribe, the Warfalla.
The apparent success of Jibril's party over the Muslim Brotherhood's bloc now makes Jibril perhaps the most important voice in the next stage of Libya's political transition, though he is barred for now from elected office.
In a campaign that took place over just two weeks, after a 40-year stretch in which the country's dictator, Moammar Gadhafi, crushed any dissent, the ideological lines for Libyan voters remained fuzzy, at best.
Many voters acknowledged plans to let tribal, family or community ties guide their vote. The Islamists also sought to portray Jibril's coalition as "liberal" or "secular" -- and some who stood with him acknowledged privately that for them those terms were apt. Part of the coalition's success may have been because of lasting suspicion of Islamist groups instilled during Gadhafi's rule.
Still, Jibril rejected the terms. A political scientist who earned his doctoral degree at the University of Pittsburgh and taught there as well, Jibril said in a recent interview on Libyan television: "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. Islam is much bigger than that."
Jibril and his coalition stood out from other opponents of Islamists around the region because they never hurled accusations of extremism against those who called for the application of Islamic law. Like the Islamist parties and other major factions, Jibril's coalition also pledged to make Islamic law a main source of legislation.
Ali Tarhouni, the leader of a party in Jibril's coalition and another former minister in the transitional government, called the results evidence of a "moderate" character to which Libyan voters responded. But he also attributed their success to voters' familiarity. "People trust us," he said. "Coming out of a war, with a political vacuum and a security vacuum, people were looking for those they knew were tested in the tough times."
Tarhouni said the coalition now appeared close to a majority in the 200-seat congress, dominating the 80 seats decided by party competition in the big cities and winning a strong plurality in the 120 others contested by individual candidates.
The official results will not be released for several days. But the votes were counted Saturday night in each polling center in the presence of political and independent observers.
On Sunday, both Islamists and their opponents said that Jibril's coalition was clearly headed for at least a plurality of the planned 200-member national congress. It is expected to govern Libya for the next 18 months and possibly oversee the writing of a constitution.