Parliamentary elections in Libya

Marking another step in the transition from the Gaddafi-regime, 1.5 million Libyans will go out and vote for a new 200-seat parliament today 25 June. Libya desperately needs a functioning government to bring the heavily armed former rebels, militias and tribes that helped oust former dictator Muammar Gaddafi under control and to secure the oil ports vital for Libya’s government and public budget. The new parliament, which will be called the House of Representatives, will replace the General National Congress as new legislative assembly.

The General National Congress has been blamed for infighting, party politics and a general political deadlock. That is why the General National Congress is replaced as a whole by the House of Representatives. Also, there are no party lists allowed, all 1,714 registered candidates, including 149 candidates running for 32 seats reserved for women, have to run on their own. With 1.5 million registered voters, the turnout is expected to be much lower that the landmark 2012 elections, which saw a turnout of 2.8 million voters. 

Many analysts see these elections as a fresh start. The House of Representatives is the new interim legislative during the transition period. It will be tasked to decide how a new interim president will be chosen and it will have to write a new constitution. Libya’s western partners hope the elections will bridge the religious divide and will help Libya begin rebuilding a viable state. But underlying political and religious divisions remain to destabilize the country.

A divided country

Since the fall of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi, the country has slipped to the edge of political chaos and national disintegration. The rebel, militia and tribe-leaders that helped oust Gaddafi in 2011 took control of the country and carved out fiefdoms of their own, defying the authority of the state. The country’s eastern parts, neglected by the Guaddafi-regime, demand autonomy and a bigger share of oil revenues. The Islamist Muslim Broterhood, rooted is western rural coastal towns, rivals tribes in the east and the west. Sections of the Amazigh, Tobu and Tuareg minorities have already announced that they will boycott the elections because they fear minorities will not secure enough representation in the House of Representatives.

Further adding to the political unrest are the attacks of renegade general Khalifa Haftar, who is backed by sections of the army and air force, against Islamists in Benghazi and the West. Many go to the street to show support for the renegade general who has been able to unite a diverse bunch of disaffected army, police and air officers, politicians and tribal militiamen. The fight against what they perceive as the common foe, the powerful Islamist militias, as Ansar al-Sharia, and their political backers. Critics claim it will be difficult for people to vote in these battle raged areas. The election officials in the city of Derna could see little point in the elections in the face of the current security crisis and have kept the city’s polls closed. In an attempt to bridge the political divide the cabinet has stated it would move its seat to the city of Benghazi. 

The economic situation of the country is turning more difficult every week. The country’s main source of income, the sale of crude oil, has been heavily affected by the country’s political unrest. An 11-month-old blockade of the bulk of oil production has already cost the country US billion. The oil output has been cut from 1.4 million barrels per day last summer to 250,000 barrels a day now. In march 2014 former Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was ousted by the General National Congress after Islamist rebels led by Ibrahimn Jathran illegally sold crude oil to rough buyers.   

The elections

Abdulhakim Al-Shahab, member of the board of the High National Electoral Commission (HNEC) stated on 25 June that the country was ready for the elections. HNEC chairman Emad Al-Sayed stressed the need for candidates to keep stringent financial reports over their campaigns, which all candidate have to submit within fifteen days of the vote. About the security situation in Benghazi, Sayeh said “all possible procedures were being undertaken in cooperation with all the government security bodies including the Benghazi Security Room.”

Because of the individual candidacies there has been little to no campaign in the last month. Former Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, who had fled the country after his ousting in March, voted in Tripoli today and said “We hope the elections will achieve their goals  and that the House of Representatives will make a new start better then the past.“ The BBC reported that there is still a great confidence in democracy in Libya, they quoted a voter saying “We will keep voting until we get the right people in.”

The UN called the elections “an important step in Libya’s transition towards stable democratic governance.” But there remain a lot of problems to be solved. The House of Representatives will have to reinvigorate the building of state institutions in Libya. They will have to bridge the religious gap and bring enemies together. They will have to assert control over the militias and they will have to secure the public finances. If this is at all possible, remains to be seen.  

Sources: Al Jazeera, BBC I, BBC II, IFES, Libya Herald I, Libya Herald II, Reuters.

Author: Koen Migchelbrink

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