Delayed by a month, Libya’s first free elections to the transitional 200 member General National Congress (GNC) went off relatively smoothly, with only isolated cases of violence and plundered polling stations.
Only 80 of the 200 seats in the GNC are allocated for political parties, with the remaining 120 reserved for independents.
The National Forces Alliance (NFA) led by Mahmoud Jibril (described by the Economist as “a sensible modernizing reformer who claims to be something between a secular liberal and a mild Islamist”) won 39 seats of the 80 seats, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s (MB) Justice and Construction Party (JCP) 17, with the remaining 24 seats going to a host of smaller parties.
It is unclear which party or parties the 120 independents will tend to support. The GNC will choose a prime minister ahead of general elections scheduled for next year.
Observers reported a high voter turn-out; about 60 percent of the electorate voted, according to the Libyan state news agency.
"Nobody saw this [the size of the NFA victory] coming," said Dirk Vandewalle, a US academic and former adviser to the UN special envoy for Libya, while the MB leadership felt they fell “below expectations”.
Many voters appear to have viewed Jibril, who was one of the prominent faces of the rebel leadership, as a safe pair of hands who can rebuild the economy, commented Marie-Louise Gumuchian and Hadeel al-Shalchi for Reuters. They believe that Islamist parties did not do well because Libyan society is already familiar with conservative Islam and asks itself what more they could offer.
In Libya for the 7 July elections, French pundit Gilles Kepel said: “Islam is so constituent of the social fabric that it seemed difficult to vote for Islamist candidates that advocated more religion. And Libyans have largely voted for the candidates they were seeing on TV, something Jibril has widely taken advantage of.”
Frederic Wehrey, a research fellow with the Carnegie Endowment, views the ideological spectrum between Islamists and Jibril’s NFA as “quite narrow” - the Islamists trumpeting their nationalist credentials and the nationalists making frequent references to Islam as a basis for law and governance. Jibril declared himself a devout, practising Muslim and said sharia was a guiding principle of the NFA.
"The people saw in Jibril an openness to the rest of the world and they craved this openness after being closed off by Gaddafi," said Libyan political analyst Nasser Ahdash.
MB’s deals with Gaddafi might have frightened off some Libyans, said Mustafa Fetouri, a journalist with Al-Monitor.
According to Imed Lamloum, Libya bureau chief for AFP, MB is counting on independents to bring it a majority.
“We do not know how the independents will organize their ranks,” said Hanan Salah from Human Rights Watch.
|The people saw in Jibril an openness to the rest of the world and they craved this openness after being closed off by Gaddafi|
He also said it was doubtful that a coalition of 40 parties and over 100 civil society groups could remain a coherent political force. While MB might come in a distant second in the party vote, it could still take advantage of the system to carve out an alliance with independent candidates, especially if the NFA succumbs to infighting. MB might be able to articulate a better and more cohesive platform and national agenda - and if it does, people will flock to them, says Omeish.
Who will create the new constitution?
After a constitutional amendment made by the transitional government last week, the new parliament will no longer be responsible for naming the panel that will draft Libya's new constitution. A 60-member committee will instead be elected directly by Libyan voters later in a separate vote; each of the three historic regions of Libya will get 20 seats on the committee.
According to the spokesperson of Mahmoud Jibril’s coalition, Hamuda Siala, the GNC should “revoke the amendment”. "The GNC will have the right to cancel this decision. The National Transitional Council adopted the amendment at the last minute at the end of its term, when it had almost no legitimacy. This is unacceptable."
A two-thirds majority will be necessary in the new parliament to repeal the change.
Wolfram Lacher, a Libya expert from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin, told IRIN he believes the extent to which the constitution excludes supporters of the former regime from participating in politics will affect the state’s future stability.
How much decentralization will there be?
The role of minorities will be a bone of contention, as the citizenship status of the Imazighen (Tuaregs) and the Tubu in the south, and the right to use their own language, are highly contested. Which level of the administration has what control over budget allocations will feed into the debate on decentralization, Lacher believes.
Local governance will play a much larger role in the new Libya and local interest is what might also overshadow the activities of the new parliament. Lacher has argued that autonomy for the east is only supported by a small minority of Libyans, a view that is supported by Sean Kane, deputy team leader for Libya at the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, who argues that more regional independence would nevertheless play a role.
George Grant reports in the Libya Herald that the leadership of the eastern federalism movement looks forward to "constructive dialogue" with the NFA after the elections, viewing Jibril as the closest to them.
“What this ultimately comes down to is decentralization, and we support that. Some taxes raised locally should be spent locally, for example. The central government must control those issues of concern to the whole nation, such as foreign policy and the central bank, but other things such as harbours, health care and education should be controlled by the districts. It is ludicrous that someone wanting permission to build a school in Kufra should first have to get permission from Tripoli,” Faisal Krekshi, the NFA’s general secretary, told the Libya Herald.
Human rights and democracy
Human Rights Watch in a recent statement says the new government will need to tackle the widespread issue of the unlawful detention and torture of those suspected of having supported Gaddafi. Amnesty International warned in May that the unchecked power of armed militias was endangering human rights and the rule of law.
Meanwhile, research conducted in winter 2011 by Oxford University suggests that only 15 percent of Libyans said they wanted some form of democracy in the next year, while 42 percent expressed hope that a new strongman would emerge - perhaps not surprising after 42 years of one-man rule.
*This is an edited version of the original posting from 17 July 2012