Libya’s newly formed national assembly elected former opposition leader Mohammed el-Megarif as the country’s interim president on Friday, the latest move to establish a democratically based leadership after decades of rule by deposed dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
Megarif, seen as a moderate Islamist, will head the 200-member congress, which will name a prime minister, pass laws and steer Libya to full parliamentary elections after a new constitution is drafted next year.
Megarif, leader of the National Front party, is effectively acting head of state, but the true extent of his powers is yet to be determined. He beat a liberal candidate in the vote.
An economist and former Libyan ambassador to India who had lived in exile since the 1980s.
“I am very, very happy. This is a big responsibility,” 72-year- old Megarif told Reuters after the late night vote on Thursday.
Megarif won 113 votes versus independent Ali Zidan, who secured 85 votes. Voting went to a second round after no one managed to win an outright majority in the first.
“This is democracy. This is what we have dreamt of,” Zidan told Reuters, congratulating Megarif.
The assembly also voted for Giuma Attaiga, a lawyer from the port city of Misrata, as a deputy to Megarif, who had been seen as a leading contender for the top job. Voting for a second deputy will take place on Friday.
“He is a political personality and everybody knows him,” Othman Sassi, a former official of the National Transitional Council, said of Megarif. “He has very good experience to lead congress and the Libyan democratic state.”
Megarif is from Libya’s second biggest city, Benghazi, the cradle of last year’s revolt. Those roots are likely to placate fears in the east that the region would be marginalized by a centralized authority in the capital Tripoli.
The ceremony was the first peaceful transition of power in Libya’s modern history, but it has been overshadowed by several violent incidents in the past week that have underscored the country’s precarious stability.
In the new assembly, 80 seats are held by parties. A liberal coalition led by wartime rebel prime minister Mahmoud Jibril won 39 of those seats, while the Justice and Construction Party - the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood - won 17.
The remaining 120 seats are in the hands of independent candidates whose allegiances are hard to pin down. Key decisions will require a two-thirds majority to pass, making cooperation necessary in what is still a delicate transition for Libya.
Megarif, who authored a series of books on Qaddafi’s repressive policies, lived as a wanted fugitive for years, and was the leader of the country’s oldest armed opposition movement, the National Front for the Salvation of Libya. The movement made several attempts to end Qaddafi’s 42-year rule, sometimes by plotting assassination attacks including a well- known and daring 1984 assault on Bab al-Aziziyah, the late dictator’s fortified compound in Tripoli.
The regime cracked down on the group, executing and arresting many of its members. Many fled abroad where they worked as political activists. Megarif’s movement organized the first Libyan opposition conference in London in 2005 and called for the overthrow of Qaddafi’s regime at a time when other groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, accepted Qaddafi’s outreach to the opposition.
Upon his return to Libya after last year’s armed revolution, he formed a new party, the National Front, which sees Islam as a broad guideline to the state’s affairs, but does not mention the implementation of Islamic Sharia law. However since Megarif’s old movement was founded by several Islamists, and ex-members of the Muslim Brotherhood, he is seen as close to Islamist parties.
Megarif will hold the office until a new constitution is in place sometime next year. He replaces Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, head of the outgoing transitional council, which was disbanded Wednesday when Abdul-Jalil handed power to the new assembly.
The body, which voted just after midnight, was elected in July in a turnout that exceeded 60 percent.
It will choose a prime minister within 30 days, then decide on a mechanism to select a 60-member panel tasked with writing a constitution. The assembly had been charged with forming the panel until July, when in a last minute move the outgoing transitional council declared that the panel will be elected directly by the people.
Lawmakers however have said that the assembly has the right to reverse the move.
Gunmen murder Libyan general
Gunmen shot dead Libyan army general and high-ranking defense ministry official Mohammed Hadia on Friday in the eastern city of Benghazi, one of his sons told AFP.
“My father was returning from the mosque after Friday prayers with a neighbor when a car stopped in front of them with four people on board,” Ahmad Hadia said.
“They asked for his identity, then shot him dead,” he added.
The motive for the murder was not immediately clear and the identity of the gunmen unknown.
Hadia was one of the first officers to defect and join the opposition during last year’s revolution that ousted Qaddafi.
After the revolution he was appointed head of armaments at the defense ministry.
Hadia is the latest of dozens of security officials murdered in Benghazi, especially of officers who had served under Qaddafi.