Don't call us secular, says Libyan poll favourite

Alliance of moderate parties takes lead in election as voters reject Islamist alternative

Benghazi

The first round of official results from elections in Libya after the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi is expected to show that an alliance of moderate parties was in the lead and that there has been widespread of rejection of the Islamists across the country.

Mahmoud Jibril, a former regime official leading the National Forces Alliance, was at pains not to appear triumphalist at the early returns after Saturday's election, stressing it was wrong to label his group secular and calling for a coalition of over 150 parties to chart the country's future after 42 years of dictatorship. Although it is unlikely such a large number of differing factions would be able to form a united administration, the way has been opened for working together with conservative religious parties who, at one stage, were predicting that they would form the new government.

Elections in other countries which had experienced the Arab Spring – Tunisia and Egypt – had seen religious hardliners take up the reins of power. But in Libya the Muslim Brotherhood, standing as Justice and Development Party and Al-Watan, in which a former militia chief, Abdul Hakim Belhaj, is a leading figure, have fallen away, failing to build on an early momentum.

Mr Jibril's Alliance has, it is estimated, won just over 78 per cent of the votes in the capital, Tripoli, and around 56 per cent in Benghazi, in the conservative east, where according to electoral sources, the Muslim Brotherhood, has won just 15 per cent, coming third. Meanwhile Mr Belhaj's al-Watan may have received as little as six per cent of the cast ballot.

Mr Jibril, who was the first Prime Minister of the National Transitional Council (NTC) administering the country after the revolution, has been reconciliatory towards the religious elements stressing his Alliance believed Sharia should be an important source for a future legal code.

There was no immediate response to Mr Jibril's offer of a pact from the Muslim Brotherhood, while Mr Belhaj's Al-Watan said it was studying the proposals. However, another Islamist faction, Al-Assala Group, said it was open to talks. But its leader, Ali Rhouma El-Sibai, added: "The door is open to dialogue now for all Libyans. But no agreement is possible until we know what is on the table. We cannot compromise our principles. But we are always prepared to be constructive."

A new government also faces the problem of opposition in the east from federalists who want to see the regions get a large degree of autonomy. This would leave Benghazi and its hinterland in a powerful economic position with the possession of much of the country's oil wealth.

The federalists had boycotted and sought to disrupt voting, looting and destroying ballot boxes from four polling stations. Two people were killed, including a 22-year-old student delivering election material. Jamal Bugrien, at Benghazi's electoral commission, said: "The federalists scored an own goal by not voting, their voices were not heard. Also a lot of people who may have been sympathetic to their views were put off by the violence."

Mr Jibril, in his theme of reconciliation, urged immediate talks with the opposition in the east: "There should be a serious dialogue. As there's a sincere wish on their part and our part, I think we can reach a compromise."

Mustafa Mohammed Fartusi, a federalist activist, said no offer would be rejected. "One of our aims was to see Qatar does not get a big voice in Libya through the Islamists. That's been seen off even without our votes. One reason for the trouble on Saturday was our demands were ignored by the NTC. Now if Tripoli wants to talk, we'll listen."

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