Libya’s First Democratic Elections and the Challenges Ahead

Libya witnessed its first democratic elections since 1964; there was disruption to the process in towns and cities in eastern Libya especially Brega, Ejdabyia and Benghazi. However, the elections were hailed as a success with around 65% turnout. Some of the incidents resulted in fatalities in Benghazi and Ejdabyia, and the election process in both Brega and Ejdabyia was disrupted and delayed by few hours.
Despite the many mistakes in terms of the mechanism, approach and timing of the elections, the election process marks a significant step forward for democracy in Libya. There were many positive signs from the initial reading into the elections results and the citizens’ attitude towards the whole process with all the different elements and stages involved.
The newly elected National Assembly needs to ensure that the democratic transition process isn’t undermined by similar mistakes made by the NTC and its leadership. There has to be better transparency and accountability, as well as, effective communication with the people of Libya through their representatives in the National Assembly and co-ordination with local authorities.
There are no final official results for the elections yet, however the party lists seem to be swept by the National Forces Alliance led by the wartime prime minister Mahmoud Jibril. The results surprised many who predicted that Libya would follow in the footsteps of Egypt and Tunisia and elect an Islamist majority government. However, it is important to note that party lists account for only 80 seats of the 200 seats within the National Assembly, and the political ties and ideology for the independent candidates will determine the real winner in Libya’s elections. Currently, it is difficult to read and translate the independent candidates’ results in the different districts.
Some of the initial results for individual candidates show very interesting results for the independent candidates. For example, in the city of Derna within voting district No. 1, the NFA secured a sweeping victory in party lists and secured all seats in the district, however the winning independent candidate for the city of Derna is a Muslim Brotherhood.
Mahmoud Jibril called for a grand coalition in the National Assembly and the new government and welcomed all interested parties to work together for the good of Libya and Libyans, away from ideologies and political games.
The Muslim Brotherhood admitted the defeat of their party lists; however, they currently seem to be convinced they can secure a majority from 120 independent candidates’ seats. The Brotherhood is reported to be lobbying the independent candidates throughout the country to redeem their defeat in the party lists battle.
The Libyan people have showed incredible political awareness with very little time and experience in the democratic process. Libyans knew exactly what they wanted from the political parties and the independent candidates, however, Mahmoud Jibril and his National Forces Alliance managed to convey the better message and sold their manifesto to the public in Libya. Their party lists did very well in all voting districts, except Misrata where the NFA came fourth. The results in Misrata are attributed to tribal and regional reasons, as Jibril comes from the powerful Werfalla tribe with their home town being Bani Waleed. Both Misrata and Bani Waleed aren’t good friends anyway, both historically and presently bloody confrontations between the two cities have occurred resulting in deep feelings of hatred to each other.
Islamists were defeated in in the party lists elections due to their close links to foreign entities based in Egypt and Qatar. The credibility of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Nation party led by Abdul Hakim Belhadj is at stake, as they underestimated the impact of their close links with foreign entities on the public opinion in Libya. Libyans are very patriotic and would never allow any foreign entity to exercise any control over their lives by installing local agents.
The Muslim Brotherhood predicted their defeat hours before the elections, and the NTC was pressured into changing Article 30 of the Constitutional Announcement. The change strips the National Assembly of its core task, which is the appointment of the Constitution Drafting Committee. The NTC made changes by which the National Assembly no longer appoints the Committee, and instead it would be elected directly by the people.
This was an attempt by the Muslim Brotherhood to try and control the Constitution Drafting Committee and prevent Jibril and his coalition from dominating the process. However, the Muslim Brotherhood must realise that the newly elected National Assembly will have the power and mandate to reverse, change or cancel any of the ad-hoc laws or constitutional changes passed by the NTC.
The changes made by the NTC to Article 30 under pressure from the Muslim Brotherhood, would definitely put Mahmoud Jibril in a limbo with the supposedly eastern Libya, where he achieved crushing victory over the Muslim Brotherhood.
If the changes in article 30 were to be cancelled, Jibril will need to come up with a satisfactory arrangement with leaders in eastern Libya especially the Cyrenaica Regional Council. However, Jibril was already reported to have held talks with the leaders in eastern Libya and the federalists’ camp, and the talks were hailed as positive and constructive. The talks led to Ahmed Elzoubair the chairman of the Cyrenaica Regional Council to welcome Jibril’s performance in the elections.
Whoever wins the majority in Libya’s National Assembly will be faced with huge challenges inherited from Gathafi’s 42 years of dictatorship, as well as, challenges inherited during the revolution period.
The main challenge and test for the upcoming elected government would be the issue of security, with hundreds of autonomous armed militias. The approach to such critical issues has to be pragmatic and a robust mechanism has to be put in place to disband these armed militias and brigades, and replace them with effectively functional national army. There has to be a strategy to collect weapons and arms from civilians.
In order to do that, the national assembly will need to have credibility among all the different factions in the country. These factions and the civilians in Libya need to be sure that if they give up their arms, the government is able to ensure stability and security for all citizens, and also have an effectively functional justice system. All Libyans need to be convinced that the new Libya is about the rule of law, and not about getting your way by violent means and taking matters into your own hands.
Another challenge is the economy, where the transitional government failed to steer the economy, reduce unemployment and diversify the economy. However, the transitional government had limited powers in terms of signing contracts and making deals with foreign investors. The newly elected government will have the required popular mandate to better steer the economy, activate suspended contacts and sign new deals.
The newly elected government will be faced with record high unemployment among the youth population in Libya, but Libya’s need for investment and projects in infrastructure and reconstruction should guarantee the youth in Libya better chances of finding jobs. Also, the new government will need to tackle a long established corruption culture that many in Libya have been used to for the last 42 years.
Another huge challenge in the upcoming period would be the national reconciliation, where the transitional authorities failed to achieve any concrete steps in that direction. Rivalries and hostilities continue to exist in western and southern Libya.
Currently, Misrata and Bani Waleed are on the verge of war. Misrata is accusing Bani Waleed of kidnapping two journalists from the city, while Bani Waleed is insisting that the two journalists are being held bending investigation into their suspicious activities in the area. There have been reports that Bani Waleed requested the release of 120 of their people currently held in Misrata after being captured during the armed struggle. The government asked for restraint from both sides, and stressed that dialogue is the preferred means to solve the issue. However, Misrata have now positioned their brigades on the outskirts of Bani Waleed in preparation for a possible assault on the city.
The Final results for the elections are expected to be announced on Tuesday July 17 by the Higher National Elections Commission.
Winning the National Assembly elections is a double edged sword, and whoever secures the majority in the remaining 120 seats would be faced with huge challenges that could undermine their ability and credibility in any upcoming elections. However, this could be the best chance for the winner in these elections to prove to Libyans their ability to lead the country forward and secure victory in any upcoming elections. Mohamed Eljarh is a UK based Libyan academic researcher and political, social development activist. He is from the city of Tobruk in Eastern Libya. [Email: ]. Follow him on Twitter: @Eljarh