Former Gaddafists Win in Libyan Democracy

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High Election Commission workers chant the national anthem behind ballot boxes which just arrived from the region of Kufra, five days after Saturday's landmark national elections, at the High Election Commission Center in Tripoli 12 July 2012. (Photo: Reuters - Zohra Bensemra)

By: Rim al-Barki

Published Friday, July 13, 2012

Initial results show that the alliance led by a former Gaddafi regime official, Mahmoud Jibril, won the majority of the 80 seats (out of 200) reserved for parties in the Libyan General National Congress elections. While the remaining individual seats could still sway the vote towards Islamists, their defeat is significant in light of voting results in Libya’s neighbors, Egypt and Tunisia.

Benghazi - Contrary to all previous expectations, and unlike their Tunisian and Egyptian counterparts, Libyans voted for non-Islamist political forces that have been described as secular and liberal in the General National Congress (GNC) elections.

But former prime minister Mahmoud Jibril, head of the National Forces Alliance (NFA) representing these political parties, stressed on more than one occasion that the NFA includes all Libyans.

Hours before the announcement of the official results which confirmed Libya’s breaking from the trend of Islamist electoral victories in the nations of the Arab Spring, there were many reasons that led to what has been described as a “surprising” result.

Some believe that the reason behind the defeat of Islamist forces is that Libyans learned a lesson from their Tunisian and Egyptian neighbors.

Others argue that the nature of the Maliki Muslim society in Libya does not require an Islamist political party to run the country and that the contest was determined from the get-go in favor of the liberals.

However, the only fact that an observer of Libyan politics can pin down is that Jibril’s alliance won with a landslide in 10 out of 13 constituencies.

What’s controversial about this result is that the overwhelming majority of voters rejected the religious edict issued by the Grand Mufti of Libya prohibiting voting for a “secular infidel” party.

In the first constituency (Tobruk - Quba - Darna), which is considered a center and a stronghold for Islamists, the NFA won four seats out of five and competition is still raging over the remaining seat.

In Janzur the NFA had, according to initial results, 29,000 votes, followed by the Justice and Construction Party (JCP) – the political arm of Libya's branch of the Muslim Brotherhood – which had 2,000 votes.

Observers of Libyan politics argue that it is not proper to label the NFA as liberal.

Candidate Muhammad Ali Abdullah tells Al-Akhbar that Libyans fear politicizing Islam and imprisoning it within a specific intellectual and political framework. As such, the Libyan people voted against the Muslim Brotherhood rather than voting for Jibril or liberalism.

He says there is no such thing as liberal thought inside the NFA. Rather, it is an alliance built on civil society institutions and a group of small political parties with opposing ideologies – it is an alliance of interim temporary interests and not an intellectual alliance.

Abdullah believes that Jibril succeeded in attracting a large number of civil society institutions, clubs, and associations that have nothing to do with politics but were able to mobilize and create a lot of momentum.

He also succeeded in marketing himself as the person who will lead the GNC even though he does not have the right to run for office or to participate at this stage.

The candidate of the city of Zawiya, Osama Kaabar, told Al-Akhbar that despite the overwhelming joy at the elections, people approached voting through a tribal and regional prism.

Many came to vote without having any idea for whom they were voting, he claimed.

According to him, the election was organized prematurely in Libya, and it should have been postponed for at least six months, accompanied by an awareness-raising campaign through radio and television stations.

Libyan diplomat, Muhammad al-Ujayli, believes that the success of the elections is an exceptional one in the history of elections, by all standards.

It is a phenomenon that deserves further examination and will be taught in political science, law, and sociology courses, as it was achieved despite the presence of weapons in private hands, the absence of security, and the weakness of state institutions.

There are also other reasons behind this result, the most important of which is the desire of Libyan citizens to quickly reach the institutionalization of the state. That is, they sought to end revolutionary legitimacy by replacing it with electoral legitimacy.

The NFA focused on scientific and practical electoral programs dealing with the duties of the GNC, and they communicated with Libyan citizens through lectures and meetings that the NFA leader himself conducted throughout the country.

The majority of other parties, especially the Islamist ones, focused instead on using the “secular and liberal” nature of the NFA to draw voters their way, without reaching out to citizens and communicating with them.

One of the achievements of these elections is the increasing political consciousness among Libyans who gained political experience born out of the freedom they attained, thus leading to a better understanding of the electoral process, its rules, propaganda, and tricks.

Amidst all these expectations and initial results, the Islamist forces in Libya are still hoping to score a victory when the results of the remaining 120 individual seats out of the GNC’s 200 seats are tallied.

But liberals see in the initial results as a decisive failure by the Islamists to gain a majority of the 80 party seats which was previously assumed to belong to them.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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