TSG IntelBrief: The Makings of a Democratic Libya Through the Existing Perils
August 2, 2012
As of early August 2012, Libya’s first free election since the collapse of the Muammar Qaddafi regime was pushed back to July 7th from the original date of June 19th, ostensibly because of administrative issues, but a spike in violence is also likely to have contributed to the decision to postpone the poll. Despite isolated protests and pockets of violence that caused delays, the turnout on July 8th was estimated at 62%.
Final election results when announced on July 17th showed that the National Forces Alliance (NFA), headed by Mahmoud Jibril, who served as prime minister in the National Transitional Council (NTC)’s first government, gained the most party seats in the General National Congress (GNC), an interim parliament. Jibril’s coalition secured 39 out of 80 seats allocated to parties in the GNC, almost double the number won by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction Party (JCP), which had been expected to perform well but ended up with only 17 seats.
The NFA’s victory in the party-list part of the poll has often been ascribed to the high profile that Jibril had built both while leading the anti-Qaddafi struggle last year and since his November 2011 resignation. Jibril maintained solid relations with the powerful Zintan militia during his period as premier and had reportedly developed working relations with “every single city, town and militia,” according to some Libya analysts. Bringing these disparate and powerful elements into the new government will be any new leader’s greatest challenge, particularly if he is confronted by firm Islamist opposition.
If elected, not only does Jibril have to keep the squabbling militias on board, he also has to co-opt former Qaddafi supporters. His membership of the Warfalla tribe may help in that effort. The Warfalla-dominated town of Bani Walid was the last pro-Qaddafi bastion to fall and remains the most important center of support for the former regime.
Jibril has a technocratic track record with well-known views about Libya’s development needs. In 2007, Qaddafi appointed him as head of the National Economic Development Board and the National Planning Council. There, he played a key role in attempts to implement the economic reform and modernization program patronized by Saif al-Islam Qaddafi. Leaked U.S. diplomatic cables highlight Jibril as “a serious interlocutor who gets the U.S. perspective” and who is “reform-minded”.
In addition, the federalist groups in Cyrenaica that have been behind some of the disruptions to polling are likely to regard Jibril as somebody they can do business with based on his pragmatic and inclusive approach. In his first statement after voting closed, Jibril took a conciliatory tone and called for a broad coalition. (Libya, post-independence in 1951, was split in three federal regions—Cyrenaica, Tripolitana and Fezzan—until it became a unitary state in 1963. Cyrenaica contains an estimated two-thirds of the oil reserves. On March 6th, more than 3,000 people attended a meeting in Benghazi and declared autonomy for eastern Libya as Cyrenaica.)
The Islamists’ failure has left the door open to what could be the Arab Spring’s first liberal, secular government. It could also result in a more limited constitutional role for Sharia (Islamic law) than that sought by Islamists. Under laws banning former politicians from running for office, Jibril himself will not have a seat in the GNC, but could assume a role in a new government. He has not yet said he wants the post.
Moreover, the party-list results will not by themselves dictate the make-up of the new parliament. The majority of seats, 120 out of 200, were reserved for candidates running on an independent ticket, and so much will depend on the political leanings of these individuals. Most independent candidates followed a campaign message that was in accordance with the needs of the voters; however, some have ties to parties while others are seen as genuine independents. Both the JCP and the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, a long-established resistance group operated from exile during the Qaddafi years, claim to have significant support among the independents. Nevertheless, Jibril and his coalition are assured to have a significant role.
The election results threw up some other surprises, too. Al-Watan, a party that was established by a former militia leader, Abdel Hakim Belhadj, and that ran a high-profile media campaign, failed to gain any seats. There was also a strong showing for women, who took 33 seats in total. However, only one of these was won by an individual candidate, with the remainder on party lists, which had to alternate between men and women.
The Higher National Election Commission has announced there will be a two-week appeal window for challenges to be heard, after which the final results will be announced and the transfer of power will begin. According to Othman bin Sassi, a member of the outgoing NTC, “8th August is expected to be the date on which power is transferred from the NTC to the GNC.” Under the interim constitution, the NTC is to be dissolved during the GNC’s first session.
The Congress will appoint a prime minister, who will nominate ministers to a new interim cabinet. The GNC was originally also to select a committee that would write and submit a draft constitution within two months of the Congress’s first meeting. Following approval by the GNC, the constitution would be put to a referendum. However, just days ahead of the voting, the NTC announced that a 60-member constituent assembly would be elected instead. The seats on the assembly would be allocated equally between three regions: 20 seats to the western region of Tripolitania, 20 seats to the less-populated Cyrenaica in the east, and 20 seats to the sparsely populated southern region of Fezzan.
If the change is confirmed, it would seem to be a response to federalist factions that have used the 1951 constitution as a basis for arguing that the regional allocation of seats in the GNC gives too much prominence to the west of the country. Under the interim constitution, full parliamentary elections will be held in mid-2013. There is a possibility that fresh elections will soon take place to determine the composition of the 60-member committee that will be tasked with drafting Libya’s new constitution. However, the GNC could overturn the NTC’s decision to hold elections and appoint the committee as originally stated in the interim constitution.
The election is seen as a litmus test for the ability of post-Qaddafi Libya to successfully forge a functioning political system. An elected parliament and government will have a stronger mandate to press ahead with political reform, to accelerate reconstruction and infrastructure projects, and to begin the trials of former regime figures such as Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, the son of the late dictator, and Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi, the former primer minister. The success of the transition process will also depend on the government’s commitment to wealth distribution and its ability to restore the state’s capacity to provide Libyans with basic goods and services. However, there is a risk that, as an interim institution, the next government could put off taking difficult decisions, preferring to leave them to the next cabinet, which will serve a full term.
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