Scramble to woo Libya's independents begins as Jibril coalition beats Islamists

Liberals secure 39 seats to the Muslim Brotherhood's 17, but both parties now need to bring independent candidates on board to secure a majority.

Security members at the Libyan election result conference. Results show a secular, liberal alliance in first place in the nation's first free vote, but they need to woo independent candidates.
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TRIPOLI // A moderate coalition led by the wartime prime minister Mahmoud Jibril beat Islamist rivals in Libya's landmark election, results showed yesterday, but it was not yet clear who would dominate the new assembly as all sides scrambled to woo independents.

Mr Jibril's National Forces Alliance (NFA) won 39 seats out of the 80 reserved for parties in Libya's 200-seat national assembly, the full count showed. The political wing of Libya's Muslim Brotherhood, the country's biggest Islamist group, won just 17 of those seats in the first free national election on July 7.

But those numbers do not translate into an automatic majority for Mr Jibril, whose party has secured just 20 per cent of seats in an assembly which will name a prime minister, pass laws and prepare for full parliamentary polls after the country drafts a new constitution next year.

A further 120 seats were allotted to independent candidates whose allegiances are hard to pin down. The names of the winners of those seats were also announced at a news conference yesterday, but it was not yet clear what kind of voting blocs would be formed.

The assembly could well be dominated by an unpredictable and fractious mix of candidates elected on the basis of local connections, reputation and social standing rather than ideology.

The NFA, made up of a diverse group of personalities, is seen to be at the more progressive end of Libya's political spectrum. But it rejects the label of secularist and describes itself as a moderate Islamic political entity.

"It's too early to talk [about a majority]. It will become apparent in the next few days how the independents will align themselves," said Gumaa Al Gamaty, a founder of Libya's Taghyeer Party. "I think the NFA will attract some independents and smaller parties."

Analysts predict that Mr Jibril's NFA would ally itself with some smaller entities and numerous independents. But the head of the Justice and Construction party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, told Reuters his group also expected to form significant alliances with independents.

"We feel this is a victory for all Libyans ... and we congratulate all the winners, independents and political entities," Mohammed Sawan said. "We think we can get between 60 and 70 seats ... We are ready to cooperate with any party that is ready to serve the country."

Nevertheless, the final tally bucks the trend of success for Islamist groups in other Arab Spring countries such as Egypt and Tunisia, where the Muslim Brotherhood and Ennahda emerged as by far the strongest parties.

Speculation is growing that Mr Jibril, who did not run as a candidate in the polls himself, could emerge from the process as Libya's next leader - potentially as president if a new constitution chooses that form of government.

Though the elections suggest a weaker performance for political Islam in Libya, Mr Jibril, 60, and other candidates are conservatives who have rejected being labelled as secular.

Already a conservative country, the election outcome is unlikely to herald a new era of liberal reforms in a country where alcohol is already banned and most women are veiled.

Aside from his high profile in last year's uprising, analysts said Mr Jibril was seen as a safe pair of hands to rebuild the oil-based economy, which the International Monetary Fund has predicted would quickly bounce back.

Many Brotherhood candidates, on the other hand, were unknown and were tainted by association with their namesake in Egypt.

The election commission has said the results are still preliminary as a window for appeals remains and only after that will they become final.