In a country that has not held an election for decades -- not even the sort of sham polls that produce a 90-odd percent vote for the reigning autocrat -- national election fever is running high in Libya.
On July 7, Libyans will go to the polls in the country’s first free election since the rise and fall of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.
The last elections in Libya were held in 1965. Gaddafi, who came to power in a 1969 coup and stayed put for 42 years, did not even bother with the niceties of conducting a rigged referendum.
Libyans will vote to elect members to a 200-seat constituent assembly -- or transitional parliament -- that will help establish a new constitution and a political road map ahead of full-blown parliamentary elections scheduled for 2013.
Logistical problems -- including a massive list of would-be candidates who had to be vetted -- forced Libyan election authorities to postpone the transitional parliament vote from June 19 to July 7.
But neither the delay, nor the lack of election experience, nor the widespread dissatisfaction with the interim administration’s track record have dampened most Libyans’ enthusiasm for the start of the national democratic process.
By the end of June, approximately 2.7 million Libyans -- or 80% of eligible voters -- had signed up to vote, according to statistics released by the High National Election Commission (HNEC).
A vetting panel called the Commission for Integrity and Patriotism has scrutinized approximately 4,000 candidates, rejecting 320 would-be candidates. The HNEC meanwhile disqualified 650 others. While the key factor of the vetting process was filtering out senior Gaddafi loyalists, Libyan officials say the candidates’ human rights track records were also considered.
Following the vetting process, some 2,500 people are contesting 120 seats reserved for individual candidates, while over 100 parties will compete for the remaining 80 seats.
The lead-up to the July 7 elections has seen a bewildering array of political parties being formed and independents throwing their hat into the ring.
According to the HNEC, there are 142 registered political parties. Of the eligible candidates, 1,206 are running as part of an established political party while 2,501 are independents.
Here are some of the leading political parties to watch out for in Libya’s first elections in 47 years.
Libya’s political parties can be broadly divided into secular nationalists and Islamists. The latter cover a wide spectrum from moderate to conservative Islamist platforms. Most experts believe Islamist parties are likely to fare well in this conservative Muslim country.
National Forces Alliance (NFA)
Arabic name: Tahaluf al-Quwah al-Wataniya
Ideology: Considered liberal, but does not call itself secular. Claims to include secular and Islamist groups
Leader: Mahmoud Jibril (former NTC prime minister until his October 2011 resignation)
No. of candidates contesting: 70
Website (Arabic): http://www.nff.ly/Tahalof_HomePage.aspx
The NFA is a coalition of 58 political parties. Although technically a political entity and not a party in itself, the NFA is standing as a single body in the July 7 elections.
The NFA is led by Mahmoud Jibril, the “international face” of the Libyan opposition movement during his stint as NTC chairman and de facto prime minister. It was Jibril who met then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris in March 2011, securing the NTC’s first official recognition as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people.
Jibril was a professor at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania before he left for Cairo, where he worked as a management consultant until Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, lured him back to Libya to serve as chairman of the Libyan National Development Board.
Considered a modernist, Jibril was described in a 2009 leaked US cable as “reform-minded”.
But it’s not clear that Jibril’s international experience will resonate with many Libyans. His years in service under the Gaddafi regime, for one, have not endeared him to many Libyans.
Another high-profile NFA figure is Ali Tarhouni, a longtime business management professor at the University of Washington, who served as the NTC’s former finance minister.
Tarhouni formed the National Centrist Party in February 2012 before collaborating with Jibril’s NFA. But relations between Jibril and Tarhouni are reportedly testy at times.
With a roster of 70 candidates, the NFA is the second-largest political grouping in the July 7 campaign -- next only to the Brotherhood’s 73 candidates. But the Libyan electorate’s response to the NFA candidates remains to be seen.
Libyan Muslim Brotherhood party: Justice and Development Party (JDP)
Arabic name: Hizb al-Adala wa al-Bina
Leader: Muhammad Sawan
No. of candidates contesting: 73
Website (Arabic): http://www.ab.ly/ar/
Formed in March 2012, the Justice and Development Party is modeled on the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). But Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood has neither the size nor the grassroots organization of its Egyptian counterpart.
Severely suppressed under Muammar Gaddafi -- with state media referring to Brotherhood figures as “stray dogs” -- many members were imprisoned and executed. The repression forced many Brotherhood figures into exile in countries such as the US and UK.
Following the 2011 uprising, the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood has followed an assiduously moderate Islamist platform. JDP candidates have distanced themselves from Salafists, rejecting attempts to form a coalition with other Islamist parties. The party has fielded 35 female candidates and there are three women in the Muslim Brotherhood’s 45-member Consultative Council.
In early March 2012, Mohammed Sawan, a Brotherhood member who spent eight years in Gaddafi’s jails, was elected party head at the end of a three-day conference in Tripoli.
By May 2012, the party had garnered enough public support to win roughly 48 percent of the vote in the local council elections in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, a Brotherhood powerbase.
While the JDP has none of the mass support of Egypt’s FJP or even Tunisia’s ruling Ennahda, the party is fielding 73 candidates, making it the biggest player in the July 7 elections.
The Nation Party (Al Watan)
Arabic name: Hizb al-Watan
Leader: To be decided after July 7 elections, but Abdel Hakim Belhaj, candidate in Tripoli’s 13th district and former emir of the now defunct LIFG (Libyan Islamic Fighters Group), is considered de facto chief.
No. of candidates contesting: 59
Website (Arabic): http://wattan.ly/
Founded in April 2012, Al Watan has been a huge presence on the Libyan campaign trail with its slick election posters plastered across Tripoli. Much of the credit for its high profile -- and the attention the party gets in the local and international press -- goes to its prominent candidate, Abdel Hakim Belhaj, the former emir of the now-defunct, al Qaeda-linked LIFG (Libyan Islamic Fighters Group) who has launched a lawsuit against the UK government for his 2004 abduction in Thailand and rendition back to Gaddafi’s Libya.
But Belhaj’s popularity is being tarnished in the new Libya by his ties to Ali Salabi, a leading Libyan cleric based in Qatar, amid mounting criticism of Qatari support for Libyan Islamist groups. A local joke among Libyans is that the party’s purple-and-white colours match that of the Qatari flag.
Al Watan’s platform cites Islam as a frame of reference in all spheres of life and opposes federalism if it calls for the separation of regions, but supports calls for de-centralisation.
The party has fielded 59 candidates, half of them women, as required under Libyan election rules.