Libyan Elections Likely To Hinge on Tribal Ties

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As Libya prepares for elections on July 7, Al-Hayat looks at the various parties and factions competing for power. Many expect Islamists to win big, but tribal ties may prove the strongest incentive in the voting booth.

On July 7, Libya will hold elections for 200 positions in the Constituent Assembly. This assembly will be tasked with forming a new government and appointing a committee to draft a constitution. This constitution must then be approved by a referendum.

The process may seem easy, but it’s not. In fact, this is all new for people who have never had the “luxury” of choosing [their own representatives]. What makes it harder is the fact that there are more than 2501 candidates running individually and 1206 others who are running within the lists of all of the various political parties. Those who joined the parties had no clear programs.

Many are counting on the election's results to be the first step toward the “official” transition to the new Libya. However, there are deep concerns over the violent tribal and ethnic incidents that have been occurring amid mounting discontent. Many groups refuse to lay down their weapons, whereas calls for secession have been widespread. Moreover, there are ongoing attempts to ruin the electoral process, and attacks have been carried out on polling stations and their staff.

The elections had been scheduled for June 19, but the electoral committee postponed them until July 7 for technical and logistical reasons. 2.7 out of 6 million Libyan voters have registered their names in 27 constituencies.

Remarkably, 629 women have presented their candidacy in these elections. Most of them are running within party lists, whereas less than 3.4% of them are running individually.

Several observers are having a difficult time predicting the results of the Libyan elections. However, Western and local analysts are apparently certain that Libya’s Islamists will win. At the very least, they are in a strong position to win these elections.

It should be noted that dividing the seats between independents and political parties to avoid the domination of one single party has not proved to be very beneficial. Many parties, particularly Islamist ones, have begun to secretly support independent candidates.

This was confirmed in a report issued by a Carnegie researcher, Frederic Wehrey. In the report, Wehrey said that there was a major dispute over the geographical distribution of the assembly’s seats, especially in the east, where federalist advocates asked to have more MP positions.

Consequently, the National Transitional Council (NTC) decided to distribute the seats based on popular criteria. One hundred seats will be allocated to the west, 60 to the east and 40 to the southern Sahara region.

Before going into the details of the identities and backgrounds of the participating Libyan blocs, the following steps will take place after the elections, whose organizers will decide the fate of the country.

When “a quorum is present” in its first session, the Constituent Assembly will elect its president. Subsequently, it will have to appoint a prime minister within 30 days, then form a committee that is tasked with drafting the constitution. Within 120 days, the committee will have to submit the draft, which then has to be approved by referendum.

According to Wehrey, the major challenge that the Assembly will have to overcome is passing the constitution. The debate over the latter will tackle all of the major issues that are looming on the Libyan horizon. These include the role of Islam in politics, as well as what self-rule in the new Libya would look like. In this context, the new constitution will also have to thoroughly describe how Shariah law is applied, as well as the authority of the central government on local administrations. Among many other majors, the constitution should also regulate taxes and municipality services.

Three major political groups out of a total of 142 stand out in this electoral battle. The first is the Justice and Construction Party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm in Libya. It was founded on March 3, 2012 and is led by Mohammad Sawwan, a former political prisoner under Gadhafi. The second is Al-Watan, an Islamist party founded by Abdelhakim Belhadj. He was the emir of the “Libyan Islamic Fighting Group” and former commander of the Tripoli Military Council. The third party is the Liberals Coalition, which was formed by former head of the NTC, Mahmoud Gebril.

Anticipating the results, many assume that the Islamists will emerge triumphant. They argue that Islamists have been the most organized force since the very beginning. During the Benghazi local council elections last May, the Justice and Construction Party received a large number of votes. However, the Islamists are currently deeply divided over geographical issues, ideology and individual figures.

Finally, observers estimate that local agendas will have the final say. Voters are more likely to choose their candidates based on tribal affiliations, local links and commercial relations, rather than on ideology or political programs.

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Found in: individual candidates, libya elections, libya, islamists, constitution, constituent assembly
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