Middle East

Two vie to become Libya's next premier

US Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Beth Jones (L) shares a laugh with Libyan Prime Minister Mustafa Abu Shagur during a meeting in Tripoli on October 2, 2012. (AFP PHOTO/MAHMUD TURKIA)

TRIPOLI: Libya's national assembly will elect a new prime minister late Sunday, a week after efforts to form a government collapsed and raised concerns about the transition from dictatorship to democracy.

The 200 members of the General National Congress choose between two candidates -- Ali Zeidan, an ex-diplomat who defected from dictator Moamer Kadhafi's regime, and local government minister Mohammed al-Hrari.

The two pitched their programmes and fielded questions in an hours-long session broadcast live on television.

Zeidan is expected to win the backing of the largest political bloc in the assembly, the liberal National Forces Alliance (NFA), although he was elected to the legislative body on an independent ticket.

He had to give up his seat to run for the post of premier.

A former career diplomat, Zeidan defected in 1980 while he was serving at the Libyan embassy in India, and spent the next three decades in exile.

He was a member of the opposition National Front for the Salvation of Libya, established in 1981 by dissidents in exile, before becoming a Geneva-based advocate of human rights in Libya.

The NFA holds 39 out of 80 seats reserved for parties in the assembly. It is headed by Mahmud Jibril, one of the architects of the 2011 revolt that toppled Kadhafi's regime.

Hrari, a 56-year-old academic, is said to have supporters in the Justice and Construction Party, which was launched by the Muslim Brotherhood and represents the second largest force in the assembly with 17 seats.

The remaining seats in the assembly are held by smaller parties and 120 independent candidates of mixed ideological and political convictions.

The difficulty of forming a government that satisfies key parties and players crystallised last week when the assembly rejected a "crisis" cabinet proposed by elected prime minister Mustafa Abu Shagur and dismissed him.

Abu Shagur said the two largest political blocs turned against him because he would not cave into their demands for a raft of ministries.





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