In Libya's first post-Qaddafi elections, pragmatism trumps ideology

A diverse coalition of parties claiming to eschew a particular ideology and trumpeting its problem-solving skills won with almost half the votes, well ahead of the second-place Islamist party.

A coalition of parties stressing problem solving over polemic appears to have scored a victory in Libya's first vote in more than 40 years, according to final results released today. 

The National Forces Alliance (NFA), led by former interim leader Mahmoud Jibril, captured nearly half of congressional seats reserved for parties and more than double the seats taken by its runner-up, the rival Islamist Justice and Construction party. 

The next round could be a face-off – or negotiations – between the two front-runners over the formation of Libya’s next government, with a wild card in the hands of independent candidates who hold the majority of 200 congressional seats. The NFA took 39 of 80 seats reserved for parties, and Justice and Construction won 17. The rest of the party seats are scattered among over a dozen smaller groups, while 120 seats were reserved for independent candidates.

While the results end a week-long wait for answers, new questions remain.

It is unclear whether Mr. Jibril will succeed in forming the cross-party unity government – including with Islamists – he has called for. Equally unclear is which direction independent candidates and smaller parties might swing.

For now, Libyans have hailed the elections as a landmark step forward. Voters turned out in high spirits on July 7 to elect the national congress, which will name a fresh interim government and may help decide how a new constitution is written.

The new congress was originally to choose a constitutional drafting committee. The National Transitional Council stripped it of that function this month, but that decision might in theory be reversed by the next government.

The July 7 vote was Libya’s first since Muammar Qaddafi seized power in 1969. He banned political parties and threw out the country’s previous constitution in favor of jamahiriya, a system of committees that propped up dictatorship.

As “Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution,” Mr. Qaddafi’s support for armed groups and frequent head-butting with the West ultimately led to more than a decade of international sanctions.

Last year revolution of a different kind overthrew Qaddafi’s regime. Today Libyans are eager to restore stability, improve rickety public services, and bring down high unemployment. 

That sentiment has favored Jibril, a former interim prime minister who campaigned on name-brand recognition and an emphasis on tackling nuts-and-bolts problems. 

While many have called him a liberal, he has rejected both this label and its opposite in Libya, political Islam. NFA leaders stress a make-up they describe as a diverse mix of around 55 parties.

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