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Libya preps for the first national elections in 43 years

As Libyans ready for the first national elections in almost half a century, Ahram Online looks at key players as challenges abound on the uncertain political landscape

Nada El-Kouny , Friday 6 Jul 2012
Libya Elections
A Libyan man living in Jordan shows his right index finger stained with blue ink after casting his vote at a polling station in Amman, Tuesday (Photo: Reuters/Ali Jarekji)

Libyans are set to head to the polls Saturday to take part in what is meant to be a step forward in the transitional period of the past eight months, since the announcement of the liberation of the country by the US and NATO-backed National Transitional Council (NTC) on 23 October 2011. Voting for Libyans abroad already started Tuesday.

However, the political scene leading up to the elections remains rife with challenges, following the end of Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year long despotic rule.

Campaigning nonetheless kicked off across the country 18 June, for what is set to be the first national elections in almost 50 years. The projected outcome will be a parliament tasked with selecting a new prime minister, cabinet, and drafting a constitution, following the same path as Tunisia and Egypt, although hopefully without the same troubles they experienced.    

The Libyan transitional parliament will be tasked with scheduling a new round of elections, following the drafting of the constitution and it being put to public referendum.

Local reactions

Ramadan El-Kish, who worked in a Benghazi rebel media centre, disseminating independent news during the 2011 uprising, claims that the elections are crucial, as the "Parliament of Libya will determine its future."

El-Kish believes that due to the instability experienced nationwide, the majority of Libyans wants to see the country move forward and for the elections to run as smoothly as possible.  

On the other hand, Adel El-Faydi, head of the National Reconciliation Commission from the eastern city of Bayda, believes that the transitional process should have been prolonged.

"I really believe that it is too soon to hold the elections, as the country needs at least two years with the guidance of the NTC in order to establish the true basis of democracy and allow for the gradual progression and readiness of the population," he said.

Al-Faydi also believes that the spread of arms across the country poses a great challenge to the current transitional government and “any government that is yet to be instated.”

Recently, on 4 June, Tripoli airport was seized by a number of armed militants demanding the transitional government announce the whereabouts of the leader Abu Ajila Al-Habshi.

Having travelled extensively across the country over the past couple of months for his work, Al-Faydi claims that a serious issue is that very few people understand the process of selecting candidates, as "to start off with, they do not understand the difference between the party and independent candidates list."

More importantly, he fears that the elections will be dominated by a number of intellectuals and experienced figures while the true revolutionaries will be excluded.   

Media coverage is also “non-existent,” Al-Faydi tells Ahram Online. "Apart from a few posters flying around, there isn't comprehensive programme in the media presenting the different candidates and their political platforms." 

A Western diplomat in Libya, however, stated that in Tripoli, Misrata and Benghazi there is “large-scale enthusiasm amongst the population for the elections, filled with festivities and an expression of national independence and pride.”

The diplomat, who is set to be one of a delegation monitoring the elections, added that the electoral commission has been managing the process very well and has been “very transparent and forthcoming” in its process.

Electoral makeup

Libya's electoral commission, the High National Election Commission (HNEC), is managing the process in which 120 seats of the 200-member parliamentary assembly will be alloted to independent candidates, while the remaining 80 seats are reserved for political parties.

Approximately 2,500 hopefuls are set to contest the independent seats while 100 parties are running in the party lists section.

According to HNEC, approximately 80 per cent of eligible voters have registered to vote in the upcoming elections.  

A long process of elimination preceeded the vote, with the Commission for Integrity and Patriotism disqualifing 4,000 candidates while HNEC disqualified an additional 650 others. Most those affected were disqualified in an attempt to filter out Gaddafi loyalists.

This process was one of the main reasons given for the delay in the elections, originally scheduled for 19 June, along with some logistical concerns having to do with the unpreparedness of different election centres across the country.

Key players

The Islamist Justice and Construction Party (JCP), Hizb Al-Adala wa Al-Bina, modelled on Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, has fielded 73 candidates. While not as powerful as the Egyptian branch, especially outside of Benghazi, it is nevertheless expected to be the biggest player in the elections.

The party's members were largely discriminated against under Gaddafi — many facing imprisonment and execution. Many were pushed into exile as a result. Mohamed Sawan, who had faced eight years in jail, was named head of the party in March 2012.

Also carrying an Islamist tint is the Nation Party (Al-Watan), fielding 59 candidates, making it the second largest political grouping following the JCP. The party head is set to be announced following the elections. The party has reportedly been the best publicised around Libya and has Abdel Hakim Belhaj as a prominent candidate.

A former leader in the now-defunct Libyan Islamic Fighters Group, Belhaj filed a lawsuit against the UK government in 2004 for his abduction based on his group's link to Al-Qaeda. He was abducted in Thailand and sent back to Libya through the act of political rendition.   

The Liberal National Forces Alliance (NFA), Tahaluf Al-Quwah Al-Wataniya, is fielding 70 candidates. While it is an umbrella coalition made up of 58 political parties, it will be running in the elections as a single body.

Mahmoud Jibril, the NTC's chairman and interim prime minister is heading the coalition.

Others running include the Islamist National Gathering for Freedom, the Justice and Development Party (Al-Tajaamu Al-Watani min ajl Al-hurriya wal Adala wal Tanmiya); the Islamist Centre Nation Party (Hizb Al-Ummah Al-Wasat); the National Front Party (Hizb Al-Jabha Al-Wataniya); the Union for the Homeland (Al-Ittihad min Ajl Al-Watan) and the Nationalist Summit Party (Hizb Al-Qimmah).

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