Libya’s national congress is on Wednesday electing a new prime minister who will take the helm of the nation for an 18-month transition period with the daunting task of restoring security.
The difficulties facing the new premier were highlighted by a deadly attack on Tuesday by Islamists on the U.S. consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi, in which one State Department official was killed and another wounded.
An armed mob was protesting against a film deemed offensive to Islam, and the attack came just hours after Islamists also stormed Washington’s embassy in Cairo.
Libya’s General National Congress (GNC) must choose between eight candidates including Mahmud Jibril, who led a transitional council during last year’s revolution which toppled Muammar Qaddafi and now heads the liberal National Forces Alliance, and Electricity Minister Awadh al-Barassi, an Islamist.
Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Abu Shagur is also a candidate to succeed the current transitional premier, Abdel Rahim al-Kib.
The vote will be held among the 200 members of the country’s national assembly that was itself elected in early July.
The aspiring leaders pitched their programs to the GNC on Monday and Tuesday during 45-minute question and answer sessions which were broadcast live on television.
The candidates presented polices and fielded questions that focused primarily on security and the reintegration of former rebels who fought against the regime of slain leader Qaddafi.
The formation of a national army and a professional police force along with border security were the cornerstones of the programs presented. Candidates also touched on the key theme of national reconciliation.
On the economic and social front, they discussed the elimination of food and fuel subsidies, how to raise income levels and provide affordable housing.
Since the ouster of Qaddafi’s regime and the declaration of “liberation” in October 2011, the transitional government has been responsible for managing daily affairs only.
The United Nations said in a report received by AFP on Tuesday that “public security in Libya will be enhanced only if the new government makes significant efforts to implement nationally owned security sector reforms.”
It also urged the new authorities to form a “new government that is inclusive, broadly participatory and enjoys the support of the Libyan people.”
“Progress in this regard will allow for immediate challenges to be tackled effectively, including the difficult process of building strong, accountable and modern state institutions, the collection of arms and the integration of revolutionaries into security institutions.”
“This will help to put the country on the path towards democracy, national reconciliation and long-term stability,” read the report.
Jibril’s NFA, a coalition of some 60 small parties formed by the architects of the 2011 revolt, holds 39 out of 80 seats reserved for parties in the congress.
The Justice and Construction Party, spawned by Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood, is the second strongest force in the assembly, with 17 seats.
The other 120 seats are held by independent candidates whose political vision and loyalties remain a question mark.
The vote for a prime minister will help measure the influence of each bloc on the assembly, although independents also fielded their own candidates such as Abdel Hamid al-Naami, head of the small Libyan Centre party.
The main tasks facing the new administration will be to tackle rampant security problems and reconstruct sectors of the oil-rich country damaged in last year’s conflict.
Benghazi, a stronghold of Islamism and cradle of the anti-Qaddafi revolution, has seen a wave of violence in recent months, with attacks on Western targets, bombings of military buildings and the killings of army and security officers.
Interior Minister Fawzi Abdelali has warned that Islamists amount to a “major force” in Libya both in terms of numbers and arms.
Tuesday’s protests in Benghazi and Cairo came on the eleventh anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001, when U.S. cities were targeted by hijacked planes.