Tunisia, Egypt Elections Teach Libyan Liberals to Coordinate

Noureddine Hlaoui argues that liberals in Libya have learned to modify their strategy from watching the Tunisia and Egypt elections. Realizing that division would serve the Islamists, more than 40 liberal parties joined the Alliance of National Forces to coordinate their electoral efforts. Early election results show the Alliance in the lead.

al-monitor An electronic board displays partial results from one constituency after Saturday's landmark national assembly elections in Tripoli July 9, 2012. Photo by REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny.

Topics covered

justice and construction party, libyan legislative elections, libyan national transitional council, polling stations, muslim brotherhood, muslim, moammar gadhafi, justice, alliance of national forces

Jul 9, 2012

Everything taking place in Libya is of great concern for Tunisia and for Tunisians, especially when it comes to an event deemed by everyone to be both unique and historic. Indeed, who would have thought that the country formerly ruled by Muammar Gaddafi would one day witness free and democratic elections? This is precisely what happened this last weekend.

Amid an atmosphere of joy and jubilation in some constituencies, or in a climate of high tension in others, Libyans took part in their first free elections on Saturday, July 7, 2012, after more than four decades under Muammar Gaddafi's autocratic rule.

Indeed, whereas joy prevailed in Tripoli, the voting process was disrupted in the east of the country by citizens demonstrating against the elections. However, despite the unrest, Libyan authorities announced that 98% of the polling stations operated properly, and the Election Commission announced that 1.6 million out of nearly 2.8 million registered voters cast their ballots. This equates to a roughly 60% voter turnout.

Concerns and threats were, however, present in the elections, particularly in the eastern province of Cyrenaica, the stronghold of the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi in February 2011. Citizens of Benghazi and its surrounding areas have voiced considerable hostility against the interim authorities of Tripoli in the west. A protester opposing the elections was shot dead on Saturday [July 7] in Ajdabya, approximately 100 miles (160km) south of Benghazi. He was attempting to steal a ballot box from a polling station, a local security official announced.

But ultimately, the skirmishes and other disturbances "do not invalidate the elections to Western eyes,” according to US Senator John McCain, who, curiously enough, was in Tripoli at the time of the vote. “I think the best thing for Libya is that Muammar Gaddafi is no longer killing his own people. So far, everything indicates that these elections were free and fair,” he added.

Just like in Tunisia, Libyans were set to elect a 200-member assembly. This assembly, like the Tunisian National Constituent Assembly, will be responsible for designating a government and a prime minister as well as drafting a new constitution. The ultimate aim is organizing the final legislative elections in 2013. This means that there will be a new transition period after the one provided by the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC), which has thus far been chaired by Mustapha Abdeljelil.

Moreover, everyone believed that as part of the logical sequence of events, after Tunisia and Egypt, Libya could also fall into the hands of Islamists. But the rule, or rather the famous adage of "never two without three" did not apply this time. According to the initial figures, it is the liberals who are set to score a big victory in these elections.

On Sunday, July 8, 2012, at the last count, the coalition of liberals seemed to be well ahead in most constituencies, including Tripoli and Benghazi. At that very moment, the Islamists themselves recognized that their main rivals were way ahead.

"According to the collected preliminary estimates, the coalition is ahead in most constituencies," said Faisal Al-Krekchi, secretary general of the Alliance of National Forces. The Alliance brings together over 40 small democratic and liberal parties. However, everyone would rather wait for the official results of the Electoral Commission to give further details.

Earlier in the day, the leader of the main Muslim Brotherhood-led Islamist party admitted that the liberals are well ahead in the two main Libyan cities of Tripoli and Benghazi. "The Alliance of National Forces has achieved good results in some large cities. They are clearly ahead in Tripoli and Benghazi," admitted Mohamed Sawan, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood-led Justice and Construction Party.

These results are for the 80 seats in the national assembly that have been reserved for the political parties’ lists. The assembly will have a total of 200 seats, and the remaining 120 seats are to be reserved for individual candidates. The general trend for the individual seats should be the same, given that these candidates are supported by political parties.

It should be rememebered that 3,702 candidates and more than 100 parties were competing, but only three groups stand out. These groups are the Islamist Justice and Construction Party from the Muslim Brotherhood; the Al-Watan party, which is headed by Abdelhakim Belhaj, the former commander of the Tripoli Military Council and the liberal alliance. The liberals were united in a coalition that was launched by former prime minister and NTC number two Mahmoud Jibril.

The first observation that can be made regarding the voting is that the liberal and "democratic" political forces seem to have learned a lesson from Tunisia. In fact, no less than 40 small political parties have managed to unite in a single bloc against the Islamist party, which all observers, and even foreigners, expected to score big in these legislative elections.

These Islamists had relied on the dynamics of the Tunisian and Egyptian results. However, they failed to take into consideration both the pragmatic spirit and the solidarity of the liberals who have come to understand that any fragmentation among themselves would favor the Islamists. On the other hand, the Islamists are known for their discipline and mobilizing capacity in all of the countries that they are located in.

We are tempted to say that Tunisians, and more specifically our progressive and modernist political parties, should learn the "Libyan lesson" in order to prevent any potential control or monopolization on the part of a single party that will be able to recognize itself.

Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:
  • Al-Monitor Archives
  • The Week in Review
  • Exclusive Events
  • Invitation-only Briefings

More from  Noureddine Hlaoui