Tally in Libya Suggests Defeat for Islamists

Libya's Islamists suffer a major defeat in Benghazi, but still believe that they can dominate the next congress.

Elad Benari ,

Ballot boxes in Benghazi
Ballot boxes in Benghazi

Libya's Islamists suffered a major defeat on their eastern home turf on Wednesday, with preliminary results giving a net advantage to a liberal coalition contesting party seats.

AFP reported that in the eastern city of Benghazi, cradle of the revolt that toppled former strongman Muammar Qaddafi last year, the liberal National Forces Alliance (NFA) took 95,733 votes against 16,143 for the Islamist Justice and Construction Party (JCP).

Libyans on Saturday cast their votes for a General National Congress, a legislative assembly of 200 members, the first elected government in more than four decades.

The world is keen to see whether Libya will buck the trend of the Arab Spring, which has brought Islamists to power in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt.

AFP noted that the Benghazi figures reflect preliminary results of Libya's electoral commission and do not guarantee that liberals will dominate the incoming Congress, which allocates most seats to independents.

In another district grouping four towns in the east, the NFA, which is led by wartime premier Mahmud Jibril, snatched 47,551 votes, while the JCP came a distant third with only 4,790 votes.

Similar margins were documented Tuesday in a district grouping Darna, a stronghold of radical Islamist groups, Quba and Tobruk in the east. There, reported AFP, the NFA had a six-fold advantage over the JCP -- 57,234 compared to 8,333.

A total of 120 seats in the assembly are reserved for independents, who stand to tilt the balance of power, while the remaining 80 seats have been set aside for party list candidates.

The report noted that independents, courted by both parties as potential allies, may determine the orientation of the next congress.

On Tuesday, Mohammed Sawan, head of the JCP which was spawned by the Muslim Brotherhood, said he expected Islamists to dominate the next congress by forming alliances with like-minded independents.

Since the ouster and subsequent brutal murder in captivity of Qaddafi, infighting among the rebel groups who carried out the revolution has marred the ability of Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) government to rule the nation. 

The outgoing NTC said last week that Islamic Sharia law should be the “main” source of legislation and that this should not be subject to a referendum.

During the voting that took place on Saturday, armed gangs stormed polling stations in Benghazi, Guba and Suluq.  In one instance, ballots were torched; in several others, people were shot. At other voting stations, terrorists blocked ballots from being delivered altogether.