TRIPOLI - Mohamed al-Megaryef, a staunch opponent of Moamer Gathafi's overthrown regime who is seen as being pro-Islamist, was elected president of Libya's new national assembly late Thursday.
Megaryef, who had led the Libyan National Salvation Front, which grouped exiled opponents of Kadhafi, won with 113 votes in the General National Congress (GNC) against liberal independent Ali Zidane, who got 85.
Libya's National Transitional Council on Wednesday handed power to the new assembly, elected July 7, in a symbolic move marking a peaceful transition after the overthrow of Gathafi's 40-year dictatorship in last year's uprising.
Megaryef, born in 1940 in the eastern city of Benghazi, was elected to the GNC under the flag of his grouping, renamed the National Front Party. The poll for leadership of the new congress was broadcast live on Libyan television.
The new GNC president, an economist with a British doctorate in finance, had held leading posts under the Gathafi regime in the 1970s.
In 1980 he resigned as ambassador to India to join the opposition in exile and co-found the National Salvation Front.
The GNC 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 constitution to be drafted by a constituent authority of 60 members.
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 Gathafi.
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.
Among the parties, which hold 80 of 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 in second with 17 seats. But its leader, Mohammed Sawan, says the party can even the score by bringing independent candidates to its side.
A member of the JCP who asked not to be named said Megaryef's election was "a victory for the Islamists" but an independent assembly member said several members voted for him on geographical and not religious or political grounds.
Choosing a president from the east of the country -- origin of the revolt that toppled Gathafi -- should help mollify residents who complained of the region's "marginalisation" under Gathafi, the member said.
Whether two or three major forces emerge in the congress, decisions in the assembly require a two-thirds majority to pass, making cooperation necessary to avoid gridlock in the delicate transition.