Social networks & billboards: Libya’s unprecedented electoral campaigns

Agencies, Friday 6 Jul 2012

Libya's first-ever free elections are accompanied by host of novel campaigning tools, including Facebook, Twitter and billboard advertising

Electoral workers arrange polling materials at a polling station in Tripoli July 5, 2012. (Photo: Reuters)

As the Libyan High National Elections Commission (HNEC) specified 18 days – from 18 June to 5 July – for campaigning, commentators watched the ability of candidates to express their platforms to a nation yearning for democratic transformation in the post- Muammar Gaddafi era.

Elections will start today, with almost 2,501 independents and 1,206 politically-associated candidates of more than 400 political entities awaiting their winning opportunities in Libya’s first national assembly election, which will supposedly draft a new constitution, form an interim government and pave the way for a democratic system and re-draw the autocratic order inherited by ousted leader Muammar Gaddafi.

When the 200-member assembly gathers for its first session, the National Transitional Council will eventually leave office.

International concern is seemingly present in Tripoli, as the United Nations Support Mission to Libya has been assisting the HNEC and the interim authorities. Moreover, the EU has already dispatched a team of 21 observers across the country.

However, knowing about the campaigning process and its tools remains extremely important in the oil-rich state.

The HNEC determined campaign spending at 70,000 Libyan dinars ($55,188) for independent and 150,000 dinars for party candidates but there are no verification mechanisms in place. Foreign funding is prohibited, and candidates are obliged to explain how their campaign was financed.

Campaign guidelines published by the HNEC called on candidates to avoid conduct that fosters the outbreak of conflicts between voters, hurt national unity and sow discrimination or hatred, according to Al Jazeera.   

Local and International observers appear to agree on the fact that the campaigning and voting practices do not have to be idealistic as the progress will come gradually through a trial-and-error approach.

"It is still tight but our electoral team ... believes this is a feasible timetable," he said. "It doesn't have to be a perfect election but it is a much needed election."Ian Martin, the United Nations envoy for Libya, told AFP news agency.

More than 2.9 million Libyans, representing around 80 percent of those entitled the right to suffrage, have registered for the election, mirroring a general state of optimism and public willingness to achieve high level of voting turnout.

The faces of newly-rising figures are seen on thousands of posters, banners, and billboards throughout the streets of the Libyan cities that, in the past, was full of Gaddafi’s pictures.

Bridges, highways, schools, and shopping centres also contributed to the advertising machines of all candidates in an attempt to compete for catching the eyes and minds of the first-time voters in the country’s modern history.

Meanwhile, Libyan television channels have been displaying short movies targeting public awareness via presenting candidates and their platforms, putting in consideration the elements of equal air time and appearance. 

Technology is playing a significant role in the Libyan elections, especially when it comes to Facebook and Twitter. 

The HNEC launched a Facebook page in order to reach the fastest extent of communication with the masses. The page includes all the latest news about the elections and decisions taken by the commission itself.

On Friday morning, the page stated that Saturday and Sunday would be official holidays for all state institutions.

The Libyans who are interested to volunteer as election observers had the opportunity to apply on Facebook. This can be added to the conferences and forums organized by the HNEC and advertised through Facebook as well.

For Twitter, youth movements and massively-followed activists played another role, endeavouring to raise public awareness of voters and stipulating in their tweets methods and certain steps to be followed by voters when arriving at the ballot boxes. 

The BBC News reported that no public opinion polls have yet been carried out in any part of Libya. It is worth noting that Gaddafi had banned direct elections during his 42-ruling reign under the claim of its anti-democratic and bourgeois nature. This situation leaves great uncertainty about how Libyans will vote or which parties covered the largest popular bases until this moment. 

Yesterday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon saluted the Libyan people and reaffirmed the support of the United Nations to the country’s unprecedented democratic experience along the “road to democracy.”

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