Libya’s National Transitional Council has handed over power to a new assembly in a symbolic move marking the first peaceful transition after more than 40 years of rule by the late Muammar Gaddafi.
“I hand over the constitutional prerogatives to the General National Congress, which from now on is the legitimate representative of the Libyan people,” NTC chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil said at a late-evening ceremony on Wednesday.
He passed the reins to the oldest member of the 200-seat legislative assembly elected on July 7 at a ceremony that was scheduled late in the day because of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month when believers fast until dusk.
A conference room was arranged in an upscale hotel in the Libyan capital as a makeshift venue for the assembly, which is due to begin its work a week from now, according to the official LANA news agency.
The authorities put in place tight security measures for the ceremony, in view of the ongoing violence in the eastern city of Benghazi and in the capital, where a car exploded during a marketplace gun battle on Saturday.
The interior ministry said it had cordoned off the hotel and that “all the roads near or leading to the conference will be closed” between 1700 and 0100 GMT.
Representatives of civil society groups and diplomatic missions in Libya, as well as NTC and government officials, are due to attend.
Tarik Yousef, Libyan and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told Al Jazeera that the NTC “has had a pretty patchy record of delivering on the ground of being transparent”.
“This National Congress assumes power today while at the same time being expected to act, and act soon… to deal with issues that Libyan people see as essential to the country,” Yousef said.
“Many of them [assembly members] have enjoyed friendships and business dealings… but never have 200 people come together to work in an open, transparent and democratic process as the national legislature.”
The General National Congress, the outcome of last month’s ballot, will be tasked with choosing a new interim government to take over from the NTC, and will steer the country until fresh elections can be held, based on a new constitution, to be drafted by a constituent authority of 60 members.
Assembly members, who have been converging on Tripoli since Sunday, held an informal meeting on Monday and agreed on the need to select a head of the GNC and two deputy chiefs within a week, according to Salah Jawooda, an independent member from the eastern city of Benghazi.
A committee will also be chosen to write its internal procedural rules.
Libyans elected a legislative assembly of party and independent representatives last month, in their first free vote since a popular uprising last year escalated into a civil war that ousted the now-slain dictator.
Of the 200 assembly members, the lion’s share of seats has been set aside for individual candidates whose loyalties and ideologies remain unclear but who are being wooed by various blocs.
Out of the parties, which hold 80 of the 200 seats, the liberal coalition of 2011 wartime premier Mahmud Jibril performed best, securing 39 seats on its own.
Jibril’s National Forces Alliance also counts on the support of a centrist party led by Ali Tarhuni, who held several key posts during last year’s revolt. It obtained two seats in the congress.
The Justice and Construction Party, launched by Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood, came second with 17 seats. But its leader, Mohammed Sowan, says the party can even the score by bringing independent candidates to its side.
Whether two or three major forces emerge in the congress, decisions in the assembly require a two-thirds majority to pass, making co-operation necessary to avoid gridlock in a delicate transition.
Jawooda dismissed suggestions that a new government could be in place before the Eid al-Fitr festival that follows Ramadan, which is due to conclude in around 10 days.
“It is premature to discuss this now,” he told the AFP news agency.
The NTC was the political arm of the rebellion that toppled Gaddafi, and officially assumed power after the regime was overthrown.
It presided over a transition period marked by high levels of insecurity, after its failure to integrate or disarm the ex-rebel militias who helped oust Gaddafi.