Libya: The Time is Now
The Libyan people are eagerly awaiting their first election since the revolution and overthrow of their former dictator.
On July 7, a momentous event in Libya's history will take place; the first national election since 1952 and the first one open to the entire Libyan populace. Strangely for an event of such significance, little has been mentioned in the media barring the occasional recognition of it being Libya’s first major step to democracy after 42 years of dictatorial despair. Indeed, there has been no shortage of news and discussion regarding the sporadically skirmishing militias, the east's fomenting federalists, and Libya’s general slide into either anarchy or gradual stabilisation, depending on the editorial perspective. The pertinent points of this election — its build up, processes, focal points, and possible effects on the country’s future — remain mysterious to those outside the land. Within Libya itself, this election is the long awaited day that the past few months of increasing democratic sentiment has amounted to. Many generations who never imagined that this day would come to pass, are now eagerly awaiting it.
The Election Process
An estimated 2.9mn people out of 3.3mn eligible voters have registered to cast their ballot. Moreover, 45% of registered voters are female. This is an impressive achievement of the National Transitional Council (NTC), considering that voter registration was organised and enacted in such a short space of time.
The elections are set to determine the make-up of a 200 member General National Council (GNC). The main duty of this council is to appoint a 60-member body to draft a new constitution, which is to be returned and approved by a two-thirds majority within 120 days of the GNC's first meeting. This constitution will then go out for a national referendum within 30 days of its adoption by the new council.
The elections are to be carried out under the supervision of an independent body called the Higher National Electoral Commission (HNEC), governed by an 11-member board of commissioners who were appointed by the current interim government, the NTC on February 7.
The electoral process is a slightly complicated blending of electoral styles according to demographic considerations within the 73 constituencies of the country; 120 seats across 69 constituencies will be decided by a majoritarian first past the post system with seat allocations per constituency based on population. The remaining constituencies will be organised under a system of proportional representation.
The electoral law, also stringently governs candidates’ campaigns, as well as their eligibility to run. This also includes regulations on certain campaigning tactics and financing. Nevertheless, the paucity of time under which these elections have been organised and implemented means that the impressive showing of 2,501 individual candidates and 142 political entities might be too many to monitor closely. However, the complaint's mechanisms, awareness of these laws by the Libyan people, and a great popular will for indisputably free and fair elections tentatively suggests that any infractions will eventually be dealt with.
Despite the volume of candidates with each constituency having an average of 34 candidates to choose between, there are four parties who’ve been anointed favourites. The largest of these is the Justice & Construction Party, which is fielding 73 candidates (including 35 women) across 13 lists nationwide, and boast branches in every Libyan city.
Mohammed Sawan, a Misratan political prisoner under Muammar Qaddafi, leads the party. Created by the Muslim Brotherhood and therefore operating under the principle that Islam plays a guiding role in politics, it nevertheless identifies itself as a “moderate and progressive religious party”. The party, with an ethos to be as inclusive of independents as Brotherhood members, claim a solid organisational structure, and many well educated and well connected members. A further boost to their stature comes from a long history of struggle against the late dictator. Qaddafi banned the Brotherhood and many of its members were forced into exile or prisons. As the revolution began, many Brotherhood members became involved in the NTC and came to the frontline.
The National Forces Alliance, run by Dr Faisal Krekshi and overseen by the former interim Prime Minister of the NTC Mahmoud Jibril, is the second largest group. More a political entity than a party, the group is a coalition of 58 separate parties who according to Krekshi already like to think of themselves as a shadow government. Widely regarded as the most 'liberal' of parties they already employ a diverse range of teams working on all aspects of a potential governmental policy.
The Nation Party, formed in April, may only be the fourth largest party in terms of fielded candidates, but their image has been compensated by their perceived influence and heavy advertising across Tripoli. The ten man committee running it may have decided to postpone their own leadership elections until after the national one, but with the open backing of influential cleric Ali Salabi, as well as the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) leader and victim British rendition Abdul Hakim Belhaj on their lists, they already possess the characters to bestow confidence and legitimacy on their campaign.
Although many problems persist, that if allowed to fester could derail democratic development in Libya, the long awaited elections are about to pass with only a minor delay in terms of scheduling. Indeed, the electoral process has not been conducted perfectly, however, the NTC promulgated a clear electoral law well in advance, and have facilitated this electoral framework thereby fulfilling their primary purpose. The structure given by the NTC, and the enthusiastic fervour with which Libyans of all backgrounds are approaching these elections, lend a cautious optimism that this first milestone in the development of Libya's new political system and political culture, will be traversed.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.