Wartime rebel prime minister Mahmoud Jibril took an early lead in Libya’s national assembly election, according to partial tallies released on Monday that pointed to a weaker than expected showing for Islamist parties. If confirmed that trend would set Libya apart from other Arab Spring countries such as Egypt and Tunisia where groups with overtly religious agendas have done well – although Jibril insists his multi-party alliance is neither secular nor liberal and includes sharia Islamic law among its core values. Saturday’s poll was the first free national vote in six decades and drew a line under 42 years of rule under former dictator Muammar Gaddafi. International observers said it went well despite violent incidents that killed at least two people. Jibril’s National Forces Alliance (NFA) was heading for landslide victories in the Tripoli suburb of Janzour and the western region towns of Zlitan, Misalata, Tarhouna and Khoms with over three-quarters of votes counted in those areas. In Misrata, Libya’s third city, the Union for the Homeland led by a long-time Gaddafi opponent, was on course to win.
Neither the Justice and Construction party – political wing of the Libyan counterpart of the Muslim Brotherhood that now dominates the Egyptian parliament – nor the Al-Watan Islamist group led by an ex-rebel militia chief did well in the tallies. A strong showing by US-educated Jibril, a fluent English-speaker already familiar in Western capitals for conducting most of the rebels’ diplomacy last year, is likely to sit well with NATO allies who backed the uprising to oust Gaddafi. But analysts cautioned that parties only have 80 out of 200 seats in a new assembly which will appoint a caretaker prime minister and cabinet before preparing for parliamentary polls next year, with independent candidates taking the other 120.