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Libya gained independence in December 1951 after being under UN supervision as Italy lost the territory during World War II. Following a military coup in 1969, Colonel Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi designed his own political system, the Third Universal Theory, later dubbing the country the ‘Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya’. The system was a combination of socialism and Islam derived in part from tribal practices. Sanctions from the UN isolated Gaddafi from 1992 until 2003, after which the absolute ruler improved its relations with western countries. For instance, Libya appeared as an important but controversial partner for the EU in its dealing with migration issues. Furthermore, Libya served as an important export country for oil, which made up for 65% of its GDP. Libya ranks ninth on the list of countries with the biggest proved reserves of oil.
The overthrow and death of Muammar Gaddafi has been followed by continuing political instability, amplified by the weak performance of the Transitional National Council (interim government), rivalries between heavily armed militias, allegations of fraud, and a growing east-west divide. Amnesty International wrote in a report, issued on 5 July 2012, that the post-conflict period has been marked by lawlessness and human rights abuses. However, there has been progress in restoring oil exports and public services. Politically and socially seen, the country is perceived as conservative.
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End of the ‘Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya’
After almost 42 years under the regime of Gaddafi the people of Libya sought to take over control in their country. Subsequently to the Tunisian uprising, first protests in Libya took off halfway January 2011. In a rambling public speech on 22 February 2011, vowing to rather die like “a martyr” than to step down, Gaddafi set the stage for a violent showdown. Four days later the UN Security Council, with Resolution 1970, paved the way for foreign intervention and allowed the International Criminal Court to prosecute persons responsible for violations of international law during the Libyan civil war. A Transitional National Council (TNC) was formed on 5 March 2011 in Benghazi, the second city of Libya which formed the base of the resistance. The aim of the TNC was to overthrow the Gaddafi regime and guide the country towards democracy. Also in March NATO enforced a no-fly zone over Libya. After severe setbacks and with the civil war in full swing, the rebels backed by NATO succeeded to conquer the Libyan capital Tripoli at the end of August 2011. It took until 23 October 2011, three days after the death of Gaddafi, before the TNC announced that Libya was completely liberated and the civil war had ended. Finally, on 20 November 2011 all leading figures from the Gaddafi regime had either been killed, captured or driven into exile. The TNC said more than 30,000 people died during the conflict. On 6 May 2011 the interim government presented the “Road Map for Libya” and on 3 August 2011 they created the interim “Constitutional Declaration”. These documents provide for the layout directed towards becoming a democratic country. The transition process in Libya is currently still being backed by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).
Already in August 2011, the TNC announced that Libya would hold its first free elections in June 2012 for the creation of a General National Congress. After the definite take-over, attention could shift to the creation of a national electoral law, which eventually was adopted on 28 January 2012. It issued a form of parallel voting to be conducted, with 64 constituency seats for independent candidates only and 136 list seats for party lists. A women's quota was ensured through a requirement of alternation between male and female candidates on the party lists. In comparison to earlier drafts, the age required to stand for election was lowered to 21 years. Another important decision was to permit citizens with dual nationality to vote and run in the election. Further changes were later made, changing the ratio to 120 constituency seats and 80 list seats, reportedly in an attempt to reduce the Muslim Brotherhood's influence in the new parliament. Subsequently to the electoral law a High National Elections Commission (HNEC) was established on 12 February 2012. In the meantime local bodies started writing elections for Local Councils, which were generally agreed to take place best before national elections.
During the transition period, the country is not really stable as clashes between rival groups, criminal gangs and pro- and anti-Federation forces continue to erupt. Tribal clashes in the southern city of Kufra left 47 dead and over a 100 wounded at the end of June. One week ahead of the first ever national elections, around 300 pro-federalist protesters raided the electoral commission offices in the east-Libyan towns Benghazi and Tubruk, destroying computers and ballot boxes and burning election materials outside. The federalists oppose what they perceive as the unjust distribution of seats for the National Congress, which is based on demographics, allocating 60 seats to the east as against 100 to the west, with 40 for the south.
Run-up to the elections of a General National Congress
On 25 April 2012, the Libyan authorities issued a law that obstructed parties based on faith, tribe or ethnicity to take part in elections. This created uncertainty about the possibility for the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Development Party, which had proved to be popular in neighbouring countries, to take part. Registration of voters, parties participating in elections and independent candidates took place in May 2012 under supervision of UNSMIL. Following a call for a boycott of the process by the Council of Cyrenaica, which seeks autonomy for parts of eastern Libya, the deadline was extended until 21 May. In total 2,865,937 voters, around 80% of the estimated 3 to 3.5 million large electorate, registered for the elections. The selection of candidates ended with more than 2,500 independent candidates and 374 candidates representing listings and political entities, among which also the Brotherhood’s political party.
Only a few days in advance of the elections, the Electoral Commission rescheduled them from 19 June to 7 July 2012. This decision was due to problems with checking the candidates. Besides, printing and distributing the ballots across the country took more time than calculated. Furthermore, in advance of the elections, Libya was dominated by fears that supporters of the former regime would seize the opportunity to disrupt the vote.
Prior to the elections, experts acknowledged that the system is difficult to understand, with rules for the transitional period having been written and implemented under time pressure. The electoral law for instance had more often been subject to change. Eventually the National Congress was created to consist of 120 seats reserved for individual candidates and 80 seats for candidates from party lists. However, on 5 July 2012 the TNC changed the implications the election would have, by declaring that the congress would not appoint a 60-member group to write a constitution, as planned, but that the group would instead be directly elected. It is said that this was a move to appease federalist forces in the east of Libya, where even a helicopter carrying voting material for the elections was forced to make an emergency landing after being struck by anti-aircraft fire. At the same time, the government said that Sharia would be the basis of the constitution, not leaving it subject to a referendum.
Anticipating on the security situation Special Forces, including police and security bodies, were deployed at important election centres on the Election Day. The TNC claimed that around 40.000 security personnel had been mobilised to secure the elections. Nevertheless, the event was not free from disruption. Again primarily in the east, polling stations were attacked and even votes were burned. Moreover, one person was killed near a polling station. Nearly 1.8 million of 2.8 million registered voters cast their ballots, a turnout of around 65 percent. The High National Election Commission announced that 61% of males eligible to vote cast their vote, while female voters totalled 39%. Furthermore, only 3% of the votes from the overall total were invalid. The head of the UNSMIL said that the polling was well-conducted and transparent, as the elections in general were welcomed in a celebrative and peaceful way by the Libyan people.
More than 130 parties and political groups ran for elections, the best organised being the Islamist Justice and Construction Party (JCP) of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Libyan Islamists' major competitors were the liberals, which were expected to have a great chance of winning seen the recede of the Arab nationalist trend in Libya because of its association with Gaddafi. Most prominent liberal forces are the centrist National Front Party and the National Forces Alliance (NFA). The latter is a liberal umbrella coalition led by former interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril who led the de facto government of Libya before it was officially liberated. Many of the 3,700 candidates who ran separately have strong Islamic agendas.
On 17 July 2012 the preliminary results - as time for appeal was given, for the 80 seats reserved for party lists were announced.
|National Forces Alliance (NFA)||39 Seats|
|Justice and Construction Party (JCP)||17 Seats|
|National Front Party||3 Seats|
|Union Party for Homeland||2 Seats|
|Wadi Al-Hayat Gathering||2 Seats|
|Central National Current||2 Seats|
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Before the civil war started in Libya, several opposition groups existed in exile, most of them in Egypt. Practically none of them had the means to have an influence in Libyan politics. Moreover, none of them participated during the elections in July 2012, at least not under the same banner as before. This left room to others to fill up a void in absence of existing politics. Some 130 political parties and 3700 individuals registered to take part during the elections of July 2012. These independent candidates might eventually have more influence as they make up for 120 of the 200 seat General National Congress. This can be problematic as most of them are unknown outside their own districts and have little political experience or clear ideology, as they are primarily elected on the basis of local connections, reputation and social standing. Some of these individuals may declare themselves for one of the parties when parliament takes form, but many more are representatives of Libya's mosaic of regional and tribal factions, complicating the task of forming a workable coalition. Most of the independent candidates are expected to be conservative. The three bigger parties are described below.
National Forces Alliance
Leader: Mahmoud Jibril
The National Forces Alliance (NFA) is a coalition of about 60 political parties created by Mahmoud Jibril. The NFA, made up of a diverse group of personalities, was considered to be at the more progressive end of Libya's political spectrum. However, during interviews Jibril rejected descriptions of the NFA as secular and liberal, saying a commitment to tenets of Islamic law was among its core principles - a comment which could facilitate efforts to form ties with more overtly Islamist parties. The alliance rather describes itself as a moderate Islamic political entity. As they have only won 39 seats during the July 2012 elections for the 200-seat General National Congress, it will try to ally itself with some smaller entities and numerous independents.
Justice and Construction Party
Leader: Mohammed Sawan
The Justice and Construction party belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood. It primarily wants to see Libya as a free, transparent and democratic country based on the principles of Islam. As a religious opposition group perceived to be non-militant, yet radical, the Muslim Brotherhood was created in 1928 in Egypt. It is a fundamental promoter of religious government and the inclusion of Islamic norms and values throughout the entire society. The Libyan branch was officially forbidden in the mid-‘80s, but in 2003 it was said to continue its activities from Egypt. In 1998 Libya’s authorities arrested 152 members of the Muslim Brotherhood and detained them for eight years. After election results were presented, the leader of the Justice and Construction party Mohammed Sawan, said "we feel this is a victory for all Libyans ... and we congratulate all the winners, independents and political entities ... We are ready to cooperate with any party that is ready to serve the country." After first heavily criticising the National Forces Alliance, they now also hold the option to cooperate with the winner. They probably suffered a loss in the elections because many Brotherhood candidates were unknown and were tainted by association with their namesake in Egypt. Eventually they received 27% of the vote, obtaining 17 seats in the General National Congress in July 2012.
National Front Party
Leader: Mohamed Yusuf Al Magariaf
The National Front Party is an continuation of the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL), which was an exiled opposition movement during the dictatorship of Gaddafi. The National Front Party, which obtained 3 seats in the July 2012 elections, is considered to be liberal. The party has its roots in the anti-Gaddafi movement and is pro-democratic. They voiced considerable unease over the Justice and Construction Party’s stance on the role of Islam in the public and private sphere. The National Front presents itself as an inclusive, liberal and progressive party. It has a special policy on empowering women and encouraging them to take part in the nation building. There were 22 female candidates contesting in the elections for the party. Mohamed Yusef al Magariaf, as being the founder of the NFSL, has presumed leadership of the political party.
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Leader of the National Forces Alliance
Despite the fact that Mahmoud Jibril himself could not run for elections - the rules barred members of the transitional administration that ran the country since Libya’s fall -, his coalition won. Jibril, a former economic adviser to Muammar Gaddafi has proved a popular choice with voters. This is probably due to his performance as first rebel prime minister after having defected from the Gaddafi regime. He proved successful in rebuilding the oil-based economy. Furthermore, it is said that his progressive stance received support, although the 60 year old considers himself to be highly religious. His politics build on moderate Islam and pro-business policies. Jibril taught strategic planning at a university in the U.S. for several years before moving to Cairo in the mid-1980s, from where he worked as a consultant, travelling frequently to the Gulf. Prior to the elections he has promoted the need to reconcile different groups. His critics see him as too connected to Gaddafi‘s regime and view him as opportunistic, floating promises to appease multiple sides, including remnants of the old regime. At the moment speculation is growing that Jibril, could emerge from the process as Libya's next leader - potentially as president if a new constitution chooses that form of government.
Leader of the Justice and Construction Party
Mohammed Sawan was relatively unknown before becoming leader of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction Party, particularly since the party works with an advisory organ making up the most important decisions. Most striking fact is that Sawan was jailed by the Gaddafi regime for eight years until being released in 2006. During campaigning time he has stated that his party sees Islam as a religion that regulates all aspects of life, including politics.
Brian Whitaker blogging about early developments
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EU stance towards Libya
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First Local Council Election, 20 February 2012, BBC
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On registeration for Libya's Election, The Tripoli Post
Pro-federalist protesters storm election offices, 1 July 2012, Libya Herald
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Questions and Answers, BBC
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Libya’s independents might emerge as third power, The Malta Independent Online
Libya’s Jibril beats Islamist, 17 July, Reuters
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Profile of The National Front, Libya Herald
About Dr. Al Magariaf (National Front)
Mahmoud Jibril, The Guardian
Libya's rebel PM Jibril seen as unifying figure, Reuters
Muslim Brotherhood formally launches party, Libya Herald
Mohammed Sawan signals retreat over previous stance towards National Forces Alliance, Libya Herald