Election 2012: Libyan Election an Overwhelming Success As Liberal Coalition Leads Polls
Despite some disruption, Libya's national election on Saturday (7 July) was overwhelmingly successful, with the liberal National Forces Alliance coalition currently leading the polling.
IHS Global Insight Perspective
With a high turnout and voting taking place in 98% of polling stations, Libya's first free national election appeared to have been an overwhelming success despite security fears.
Although the final results have yet to be released, the liberal coalition led by former interim prime minister Mahmoud Jibril looks set to win the vote, with the Islamist Justice and Construction party performing well in the south of the country.
Jibril has called for the formation of a coalition unity government, an offer likely to be accepted by the other leading parties. However, the stability of the government will also depend on the majority independent seats, of which a clear picture is yet to be formed.
Mahmoud Jibril, leader of the National Forces Alliance,
Libyans flocked to the polls on Saturday (7 July) to vote in the country's first free national election for 60 years. Despite several attempts to disrupt polling in the hours immediately prior to the vote, some 62% of registered voters turned out to have their say in the landmark election. The voting itself passed off remarkably smoothly considering the scale of the task that had faced the Higher National Election Commission (HNEC), with officials saying voting had taken place in more than 98% of the more than 1,500 polling stations across the country. Voting was delayed by violence in several towns in the east—the home of a burgeoning federalist movement—including in Ras Lanuf, Brega and Ajdabiya. Despite this, HNEC spokesperson Wissem Sghaier described the vote as an "electoral wedding," telling reporters the commission was "really satisfied" with the success of the election.
Unofficial exit polls showed former interim prime minister Mahmoud Jibril's liberal National Forces Alliance (NFA) coalition enjoying a significant lead in constituencies in the capital Tripoli and the second city Benghazi, which together comprise the bulk of Libya's 6.5 million people. This lead was confirmed by Mohammed Sawan, head of the Islamist Justice and Construction Party (JCP), who told reporters yesterday (8 July) that the NFA had "achieved good results" everywhere except Misratah. He said his party was facing a "tight race" in the south of the country, where ethnic tensions between Arab and black African tribes have led to violent clashes in recent months.
The final results of the election are not expected until Wednesday (11 July) at the earliest; however, the early lead of the NFA in Libya's major population centres is likely to translate into a sizable presence in the General National Congress. Political entities are only allocated 80 of the congress' 200 seats, leaving 120 for independent candidates, many of whom have expressed their affiliation to certain political parties and causes. Given the profusion of candidates vying for the independent seats, the likely breakdown of the congress will remain uncertain until the final results are released, although it seems likely that the NFA will be bolstered by independents with a similar outlook in Tripoli and Benghazi.
The NFA is a coalition of 58 political parties which stood as a single entity in the election. Jibril has described the party as a moderate Islamic movement that favours a "globalisation strategy" of economic engagement with the international community. The party has acknowledged the need for foreign investment in Libya, describing the country as "underdeveloped in almost every sector". Agriculture, tourism and renewable energy have been identified as areas of future growth by the NFA, although post-conflict reconstruction is the party's immediate focus. The party supports privatisation in principle; however, this is unlikely to be a priority of the new government. None of these policies are likely to be strongly opposed by the other parties contesting the election, with the manifesto of the Justice and Construction Party (JCP)—which looks likely to perform strongly in the south—adopting a similar tone to the NFA. The major point of divergence in the national congress is likely to be over regional autonomy, particularly in relation to the federalist movement in the east of the country. While the NFA is sympathetic to the eastern federalists' calls for greater autonomy, with Jibril stating he accepts that the east was marginalised under the former Qadhafi regime, the JCP is implacably opposed to federalism.
The description of the NFA as a liberal coalition is a convenient if slightly misleading one, a point made by Jibril himself when he stressed during a press conference yesterday that his party was neither secular nor liberal, but rather a "national unideological coalition." Unlike in Tunisia or Morocco, the electoral landscape in Libya is not defined by the clash between Islamists and liberal secularists. Most Libyans are religiously conservative and accept without question that Islam should have a role in politics. This serves to blunt the main appeal of Islamist parties, while leaving no space for the few who would advocate a secular system. Equally, given the conservative nature of society, there is a reduced scope for liberalism in the way it is commonly understood in the West. This does not necessarily indicate the emergence of a regressive politics in terms of civil rights and political freedoms, however these are highly unlikely to be given the same priority as is usual in the West. Instead both political and civil society norms are likely to be heavily influence by Islam, with Shari'a (Islamic law) highly likely to form the foundation of law under any government.
Although there was a high level of enthusiasm on display for the vote, with the atmosphere in Misrata, Ghadames, Rigdaleen and elsewhere described by witnesses as "ecstatic", sabotage and the threat of violence prevented voting in 101 polling stations. Most of this disruption took place in the east of the country around Benghazi, where hundreds of protesters burned ballots to demand greater representation in the national congress. The east was historically marginalised under the Qadhafi regime, despite it containing much of the country's oil wealth, and there was anger over the region’s representation of seats in the General National Congress. Allocated according to population, the east has 60 seats in the congress, compared with 100 for the west and 40 for the south. Opinion in Benghazi is split between those agitating for more representation for the east—the birthplace of the revolution—and those willing to give the political process a chance. This was reflected by hundreds of people coming out to protest against disruption to the vote in Benghazi, where turnout was eventually high despite the efforts of a minority.
Outlook and Implications
It is too early to accurately assess the results of the election; however it seems likely that Jibril and his NFA party will attempt to assemble a unity coalition government. There is a considerable amount of common ground between the main parties likely to win seats in the election, boosting the feasibility of such a coalition, which has already attracted interest from the JCP and Al-Watan. Nonetheless the stability of any coalition is likely to depend to a high degree on the 120 independent candidates, and how they choose to interact with the various political factions. Many of the political challenges Jibril will face are already apparent, not least the questions of his suitability due to his role as a senior functionary under the former Qadhafi regime. While this history may allow him to occupy a key position as a bridge between new and old in Libya, it is also likely to engender hostility from those who see his presence as detrimental to the goals of the revolution. The future of federalism in Libya will also remain a problematic issue with no easy solutions, although the NFA's strong performance in Benghazi may give Jibril some leeway to negotiate a political compromise. Addressing these challenges alongside the post-conflict dearth of security and state authority in the country will be no easy task, although the high level of legitimacy conferred on the national congress by the election provides a firm foundation on which to build.
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