TRIPOLI // The head of Libya's national assembly resigned yesterday following the passing of a law banning anyone who held a senior post in Muammar Qaddafi's regime from government, regardless of their part in toppling the dictator.
In a televised speech to congress, Mohammed Magariaf announced his resignation - which had been expected - after the passing of the "political isolation" law, which critics and diplomats fear could strip government of experienced leaders and further complicate the transition to an orderly democracy.
"The people's representatives have expressed their word - the political isolation law - and it must be respected," he said. "And I will be the first. I place my resignation in your hands."
The law was adopted on May 5 at the demand of armed factions who helped end Qaddafi's 42-year rule in 2011.
Under Qaddafi, Mr Magariaf was Libya's ambassador to India in 1980 before he joined the opposition against the former dictator in exile.
Mr Magariaf is the highest-ranking official to leave his post since the law was passed.
As he worked as secretary general of the Human Rights Society and was an adviser to Qaddafi, Mr Ataiga would have likely been affected by the legislation, the extent of which will be announced by the Political Positions Standards Implementation Authority by June 5.
The law can still be scrapped if it is not included in a constitution that has yet to be drafted.
Analysts fear the decision to hold the vote under duress could embolden armed groups to use force again to assert their will over congress.
The heavily armed groups had besieged the foreign and justice ministries for days before the passing of the law, which prohibits former officials from holding any high position.
Born in 1940 in eastern Libya, where the 2011 uprising broke out, Mr Magariaf was elected head of the General National Congress (GNC) after Libya's first free elections for decades last July.
Mr Magariaf received a standing ovation from congress members after he ended his speech, which touched on his own exile and opposition to Qaddafi and that paid tribute to the former rebel fighters who removed the dictator.
"The people, the people are the real source of this legitimacy," Mr Magariaf said.
Congress officials were expected to announce an election for a successor.
In offering his resignation, Mr Magariaf may be seeking exemptions to the law that would allow him to remain as speaker, said Ahmed Al Atrash, a professor of political science at the University of Libya.
"Magariaf is testing the pulse of the congress and the street to know if he is still wanted," Professor AL Atrash said.
The isolation law would affect anyone who held state positions ranging from college deans to ambassadors. That could include leaders of the 2011 uprising, such as the former interim prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril, who heads the National Forces Alliance, and Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the chairman of the National Transitional Council that handed over power to the GNC.
Mr Magariaf's first deputy, Guma Ataiga, will take over until elections are held to name a new speaker.
Heated discussions about the law escalated into clashes between its supporters and opponents in central Tripoli on April 30 and again on May 2 and 3, although no casualties were reported. The law was passed with 164 of the 169 legislators present voting in favour, and five opposed.
* With additional reports from Bloomberg News