The ignominious end of Col. Muammar Gaddafi may mark a milestone of liberation beyond the wildest dreams and prayers of his long-suffering people just a short year ago, but it also represents a huge headache for Libya’s fragile transitional rulers: Gone is the common enemy that bound together a diverse and often fractious coalition of contending tribal, regional and political power centers; the shot that killed Gaddafi was also the starting gun on a potentially perilous race for power in Libya.
Libya’s Transitional National Council was recognized as the country’s legitimate government by Western and Arab powers long before its legitimacy was an established fact among Libyans themselves, even among many of those bearing the brunt of the fighting against the regime. The Council has struggled, since the fall of Tripoli, to manage an increasingly rowdy post-Gaddafi political environment, with its leadership increasingly challenged by many of the fighting forces — organized on the basis of regional, tribal or Islamist political affinities — who see the group as too dominated by former Gaddafi officials, and deriving its authority from its relations with the West rather than support among Libyans. Indeed, in response to challenges to its legitimacy from within rebel ranks, the Council three weeks ago reiterated a previous pledge to take no part in the election it promised would be held eight months after victory was declared. With Gaddafi dead, the election clock is now ticking, and those currently in power have promised to exit stage left by next summer. Even before that, the transitional government that the NTC has vowed to create within 30 days of declaring victory will likely see an escalation of fierce political infighting among rival rebel factions. Staging a democratic poll in just eight in a country with no contemporary history of party politics or the rule of law — and which is riven by tribal, regional and political schisms — is certainly a tall order. But challenges to the NTC’s legitimacy might make delaying the process difficult to countenance without a consensus among some of the rival factions now competing for power.
Only a day before Gaddafi’s death, interim prime minister Mahmoud Jibril told TIME he planned to resign this week, citing the emerging power struggle as his reason. “We have moved into a political struggle with no boundaries,” explained Jibril, a Western-trained technocrat without an obvious mass base. “The political struggle requires finances, organization, arms and ideologies. I am afraid I don’t have any of this.”