x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Liberal alliance 'quietly confident' of winning landmark Libyan vote

A liberal-leaning coalition led by the former prime minister Mahmoud Jibril called for a 'grand alliance' yesterday if rumours of its victory in Libya's landmark election should prove true.

TRIPOLI // A liberal-leaning coalition led by the former prime minister Mahmoud Jibril called for a grand alliance yesterday if rumours of its victory in Libya's landmark election should prove true.

The High National Election Commission said early results from the Janzour area near the capital and the coastal area of Zlitan showed a strong lead for the National Forces Alliance, a coalition of more than 50 parties widely perceived as liberal despite taking pains to emphasise its Islamic credentials.

The results represent only a small part of the vast country, where about 65 per cent of registered voters turned out, and early results for the coastal city of Misurata suggested a party led by a prominent local figure had won a large chunk of seats. But Mr Jibril and his party seem to be planning for a leading role in the new government.

"We are silent, confident in the credibility of the Election Committee," Mr Jibril said at a hastily organised news conference on Sunday night. He outlined a plan for building a government with his alliance, although he himself was barred from standing for election as he had already held office.

He called for the formation of a grand coalition, in essence a government of national unity, to be forged from the hundreds of political blocs and thousands of individual candidates who stood in the first election since Muammar Qaddafi came to power more than 40 years ago.

"We need to all sit together," he said in a speech that strove for inclusion - calling on women, ethnic minorities and particularly the more Islamically-tinged groups that his coalition seems to have beaten, to come to the negotiating table.

"We extend a call for national dialogue to all political parties. This is an honest and sincere call," he said.

Mr Jibril asked journalists not to describe his coalition as liberal or secular, problematic political concepts in a deeply religious country, but the alliance is expected to outperform expressly Islamist parties including the Justice and Development group, which is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.

The predicted result is a surprise for observers of the region who had seen the rise of the Brotherhood - well organised, internationally funded and often popular - as inevitable in nations rocked by uprisings, such as Tunisia, Egypt and Syria.

The general secretary of the alliance, Faisal Krekshi, said yesterday he felt that Libyans were drawn towards a less Islamist grouping in part because of the large proportion of educated women in Libyan society who feared that their freedoms would be curbed under a religious government. Anecdotal evidence from international observers suggests a strong turnout by women in the poll.

In the event that it does dominate the new General National Congress, he said the alliance would focus on decentralisation, in an attempt to defuse violence in the east of the country, which has been simmering with resentment at perceived neglect.

"We have to shift the decisions from the centre to the periphery - so it's very simple, just decentralising the decisions," he said. He also called for a nationwide process of reconciliation for former Qaddafi loyalists.

International observer missions including the US-based Carter Centre said Saturday's vote had been reasonably free of irregularities and effectively conducted, despite a "politically sensitive and potentially volatile" environment.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae