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Libyan Council Hands Over Power to Elected Legislature

National Forces Alliance Leader Mahmoud Jibril
An alliance headed by Mahmoud Jibril, Libya’s wartime rebel premier, won 39 seats, falling short of a majority and leaving both groups jostling for new alliances with the other parties or some of the 120 independents who won individual seats. Photographer: Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images

Libya’s National Transitional Council handed over power to a newly elected interim legislature, the next step in the country’s transformation after 10 months of unrest since Muammar Qaddafi’s ouster and death.

The NTC, which headed Libya after Qaddafi was driven from power in one of the bloodiest uprisings in the so-called Arab Spring, passed authority to the National Congress in a ceremony in Tripoli. The 200-seat legislature is charged with naming a prime minister and a Cabinet before parliamentary elections expected to be held in 30 days.

“The National Transitional Council hands over all constitutional authorities in the country to the interim legislature, which is considered from this historical moment the only legitimate representative of the Libyan people,” Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the council’s chairman, said around midnight local time in a televised address.

The audience in the conference hall cheered and some people chanted, “The blood of the martyrs will not go in vain.”

In his remarks, Abdel Jalil acknowledged that the council was unable to meet public expectations for dealing with issues such as security, refugees and help for those wounded in the revolution. “We were not able to establish security like we wanted or in the manner that the Libyan people hoped,” he said.

The change in Libya has been far from smooth. The lack of a clear victor in the elections that seated the new body, as well as unrest, moves toward autonomous rule and the reluctance of militias to disband, have left the incoming assembly with little flexibility as its members seek to revive the economy and restore security.

No Guarantee

“It’s easy to underestimate what has been achieved in Libya,” Crispin Hawes, head of the Eurasia Group’s Middle East program, said by phone from London. “Yes, there’s been considerable violence. However, if you go back to October last year, there was absolutely no guarantee, or anything close to a guarantee, that you’d be talking about anything called a Libyan government.”

Since then, the NTC has managed to hold a national election and the country has seen a rebound in external revenues and the oil sector, he said. Still, “the next phase of this transition is arguably at least as difficult.”

The new legislature takes over a country that remains almost as divided as the one the NTC inherited after the eight-month rebellion last year against Qaddafi. A secession bid in the east has been echoed in the south, where African tribal rivalries have pitted regional militias against each other, as well as against the still weak national military.

Parties Jostling

Unlike in Egypt and Tunisia, Libya’s Islamists came in a distant second in the national vote for the new congress, with the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction Party winning 17 of the 80 seats reserved for party blocs. An alliance headed by Mahmoud Jibril, Libya’s wartime rebel premier, won 39 seats, falling short of a majority and leaving both groups jostling for new alliances with the other parties or some of the 120 independents who won individual seats.

“There’s a lot of positioning going on as Jibril seeks to achieve a majority through an alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood, independents and Islamists,” Mohammed Ali Abdullah, vice president of the centrist National Front Party that won three seats in the assembly, said in an interview in Tripoli. “Our main priority is making Libya secure with a strong police and providing jobs.”

Broad Representation

As Libyan officials jockey for power in the new assembly, much of the country’s future stability is likely to hinge on how smoothly the handover of power goes, with some NTC officials expected to be absorbed into the new government as advisers to ministries.

Among the names touted in the Libyan media for the premiership are current Deputy Prime Minister Mustapha Abushaghur and former wartime Prime Minister Ali Tarhouni.

National Front president Mohammed Yussef Magariaf said the consensus was that the prime minister and the speaker of the assembly will not be from the same region, to provide broader representation from across the country.

One of the main tasks facing a new government will be reducing the economy’s dependency on oil. The International Monetary Fund said in an April report that crude had typically accounted for 70 percent of gross domestic product, more than 95 percent of exports and about 90 percent of government revenue.

Foreign investors have been slow to return. Oil and gas companies, who have worked to develop Africa’s largest source of proven crude reserves, have returned with skeleton crews and lower budgets.

“Most of the companies that have returned thus far have been in the country’s hydrocarbon sector,” said Jonathan Terry, senior analyst with Maplecroft, a U.K.-based risk consultant. “Outside the oil sector where risk margins are tighter, many companies are still holding out until the 2013 elections take place before they commit major capital spending.”

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