Libya Elections: Mystery Funding Holds Much Sway

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A Libyan man living in Jordan shows his right index finger stained with blue ink after casting his vote at a polling station in Amman 3 July 2012. (Photo: Reuters - Ali Jarekji)

By: Reem al-Barki

Published Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Libyans will be voting this Saturday in their first parliamentary elections in decades. There are concerns, however, about the ongoing turmoil in the country and attempts at rigging the elections in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Just a few days separate the Libyans from the General National Congress (GNC) elections. The GNC is the highest elected legislative authority and is set to take over legislative powers from the National Transitional Council. It will be the first elected parliament since Colonel Muammar Gaddafi seized power in 1969.

The Libyans hope that through the GNC they will be able to select a founding committee to draft a new constitution. But some who are familiar with the situation believe that the country does not need such a committee, as a Libyan constitution already exists but was suspended throughout Gaddafi’s rule.

They argue that the constitution of 1951 should be restored with some amendments. According to them, this would help avoid tribal conflicts within the country, which have resurfaced since the Gaddafi regime was overthrown.

Amid this polarization, Libya's High National Elections Commission (HNEC) is making preparations to ensure security on election day, in coordination with the security services, and to also preempt any possible rioting by those opposed to the elections being held.

There is also fierce competition among Mahmoud Jibril’s National Forces Alliance, the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, and the Muslim Brotherhood over 80 seats of the 200 allocated for electoral lists.

Exactly 2,639 independent candidates are vying for the remainder of the seats, with 2.5 million registered voters distributed over 13 districts.

Meanwhile, several theories concerning these elections are being circulated in the Libyan street. Libyan political activist Othman Ben Sassi says that it appears that the elections will not be held on July 7 as scheduled, “in light of the security situation which some parties opposed to the elections are subverting.”

Ben Sassi added, “While the HNEC previously invoked logistical difficulties to justify postponing the elections, this time it would be more convincing if the pretext used is the security situation.”

Ben Sassi believes that the real — and undeclared — reason for delaying the elections is the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood cannot guarantee their victory and thus taking power, as the Islamist group is now certain that its popularity has declined sharply in western Libya.

Commentator and political activist Samir al-Saadawi reveals that “there are many shortfalls when it comes to the electoral process.”

According to Saadawi, the shortfalls include loopholes in the electoral laws, especially regarding political parties, not to mention the ambiguity surrounding the conditions for running on either the individual or partisan lists.

Saadawi says that such loopholes are raising suspicions that some may intend to rig the electoral process, to allow certain parties to dominate the political landscape.

He adds, “Competition is not taking place on the basis of programs and development projects, but rather is based on factions involving interest groups, power centers, and factions that receive financial support from beyond the border.”

This means, according to Saadawi, that the outcome of the elections has already been settled in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood and certain elements linked to the previous regime.

But former political prisoner Ibrahim al-Shuwehdi believes that the elections are an ineluctable stepping stone in the democratic transformation that all the people of Libya desire.

Shuwehdi stresses that there is no urgent need for electing a founding committee to draft a constitution. According to the former political prisoner, the suspended constitution of 1951 is adequate for the purpose, and it must be restored.

He adds that federalism is one possible solution, but he says that it must be presented in a peaceful manner, without resorting to violence or blocking roads.

With regard to the electoral process, Khalid Zaio, the HNEC’s Coordinator for Candidates Affairs, says that “only one week separates us from the elections, which the majority of Libyans perceive as a new and real beginning toward building a state of institutions and the rule of law in Libya.”

Zaio reassures the Libyan public, saying that the HNEC is about to complete all technical and logistical preparations to ensure the success of the voting process.

He adds that the HNEC has almost completed the training courses for the election officers who will supervise the polling stations, and has distributed ballot materials to all 13 electoral districts throughout the country.

According to Zaio, the ministries of defense and the interior are coordinating with one another in preparing the security plan for election day. He says that this sets things in motion for holding successful elections, adding, “All that remains is for the citizens themselves to exercise their right, as they are expected to turn out in large numbers based on the proportion of registered voters.”

In light of these contrasting views across the Libyan political landscape, Libyans remain confused with regard to the independent candidates and the electoral lists.

One major question they have concerns the source of the huge amounts of money that have been spent on the election campaigns.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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