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Libyan National Congress Elects Ali Zaidan as Prime Minister

Libya’s National Congress elected former diplomat Ali Zaidan as the country’s new prime minister, choosing its second premier-elect in under a month as the nation struggles to build a functioning democracy.

Zaidan, 62, beat Mohamed Al-Harari, a local government minister backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, in a 93-85 vote yesterday, Mohammed Magariaf, the head of the legislature, said in televised comments yesterday. Lawmakers had earlier met to discuss a pared-down list of four candidates.

The election comes a week after the 200-member legislature withdrew confidence from his predecessor, Mustafa Abushagur, after he twice failed to name a Cabinet they found acceptable. Abushagur had held the job for less than a month.

“The new government will be a government of national reconciliation, and an emergency government,” Zaidan told reporters late yesterday as he laid out his program.

Zaidan was given a fortnight to select ministers acceptable to the congress. He faces the challenge of forming a government in a nation where regional and tribal rifts have so far stymied efforts to cement the strength of the central government after last year’s uprising that ousted longtime leader Muammar Qaddafi. If he fails to form a government within the allotted time, a 10-day extension will be given.

Former Diplomat

“There is confidence in Zaidan,” Majda Fallah, a lawmaker from Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city, said by phone. She said she believed he would form a national reconciliation government “characterized by efficiency and geographical balance in order to ensure the support of the congress and the street.”

Zaidan, a Qaddafi-era diplomat who joined the opposition National Front for the Salvation of Libya while in exile, said he will focus on securing the borders, rebuilding the nation, reactivating state institutions, incorporating the former rebels into the security forces and strengthening the military and police. In addition, emphasis will be placed on equitable distribution of Libya’s oil wealth nationwide and boosting health and education, according to his program.

Abushagur was criticized by lawmakers and residents of towns like Zawiya for not ensuring equitable representation in the Cabinet he initially nominated. In addition, he came into office roughly at the same time as the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, an incident that left the American ambassador and three colleagues dead.

The consulate attack spotlighted the dangers Libya faces in dealing with and trying to disarm and disband the Islamist and regional militias that have held the lion’s share of the military power since Qaddafi’s ouster.

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