Parliamentary elections in Libya were held on 7 July 2012. Libyans voted for their representatives in the 200-member General National Congress (GNC), an interim legislative body that replaced the National Transition Council, a transitional government established during the 2011 uprising against Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi. A secular alliance surprisingly beat the Islamist parties in first national polls since 1965, but concerns over security and uncertainty over Libya’s political direction remain.
Elections to General National Congress
There has been an explosion of political life in Libya, which in contrast to Egypt or Tunisia has had no real tradition of party politics (all political parties were banned under Qaddafi). A short campaign and overabundance of political parties and independent candidates created much confusion among voters, but the high turnout and lack of major violence brought some sorely-needed good news for the country undergoing a turbulent political transition:
- Turnout at 62% of registered voters
- 2.8 million registered voters from around 3-3.5 million eligible (45% women)
- 2,639 individual candidates (competing for 120 seats in 69 constituencies)
- 374 party lists from more than 100 political entities
- 559 women registered for party seats (44%)
- 88 women registered for individual seats (3%)
(source: The UN and the Libyan Electoral High Commission (HNEC), as reported by the BBC.
Results: Secular Politicians Win the Polls
According to electoral rules, political parties competed for only 80 out of 200 seats in the GNC, with the rest of the seats reserved for independent candidates. This makes the formation of the government a more complicated negotiating process, but the winner was nevertheless clear:
- National Forces Alliance, led by ex-interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, won 39 out of 80 seats
- Justice and Construction Party (Libyan Muslim Brotherhood) of Mohamed Sawan won 17 seats
- National Front Party, a liberal group led by an intellectual Mohamed el-Magariaf, won 2 seats
Significance: Islamist Parties Fail to Convince Voters
While Islamist parties recorded comfortable victories in democratic elections in Egypt and Tunisia, Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood did poorly, while Al-Watan group, linked to a prominent Islamist and former rebel commander
- The Muslim Brotherhood ran a well-funded campaign, but it doesn’t have the grassroots support and social networks of its Egyptian counterpart. The polls were a learning process for the Islamists, as much as for anyone else.
- In a society that is already overwhelmingly conservative, the Islamists’ rhetoric failed to offer a fresh policy message.
- Chaotic developments in the Islamist-dominated Egyptian parliament may also have swayed many voters toward secular parties.
By contrast, Mahmoud Jibril, a former Gaddafi-era official with a clean technocratic reputation, ran on a campaign that ditched ideological slogans for a program promising economic development and reforms. He reached out both to former rebels and ex-Gaddafi supporters, and eventually won the majority both in Tripoli and Benghazi, Libya’s largest cities.Read more in Reuters analysis of election results.
Next Steps: Uncertainty Remains
The General National Congress will undoubtedly be invested with more popular legitimacy than the unelected National Transition Council, blamed by many Libyans for poor governance in the post-Qaddafi era. However, several questions remain unanswered:
- Allegiance of independent candidates: The GNC reserves seats for 120 independent candidates. Will they align themselves along tribal, regional or party lines? There’s a big risk that narrow interests of dozens of different voting blocks in the interim parliament make life impossible for any government.
- Constitution: The outgoing government says Libyans will elect a special panel that will draft the new constitution. Once adopted, fresh parliamentary elections are due to be scheduled at some point in 2013, but there could be significant delays, with legislators demanding some role for the GNC in the drafting process.
- Militias: The gravest danger to Libya’s future is posed by former rebel groups, the de-facto rulers in large parts of the country. Will the GNC have more success in disarming the militias? Or will militias influence the parliament by buying off independent legislators?