2 Jul 2012

Libya prepares for first post-Gaddafi national elections

A week before Libya’s first elections, the walls around Martyrs’ Square in Tripoli are plastered with pictures of candidates.

Round-faced women in hijab and men in suits or the traditional Libyan ankle-length gown, the jird, stare out awkwardly. No-one has done this before. The V for Victory sign is popular – in one poster an elderly man had his two fingers photoshopped in, presumably as an afterthought when it was too late to retake his photo.

The party with the slickest posters – all tasteful purple, grey and white – is led by the former jihadi Abdel Hakim Belhaj. There’s much muttering about Qatari money and British PR advisers. Who knows? Nothing is published or transparent here. A handsome chestnut horse is leaping all over town – it’s the symbol of the party associated with the Muslim Brotherhood.

“I like two candidates,” said a serious young man I met today. “So I shall go home tonight and study what they stand for and then decide.” Others are less impressed. “They should delay this election,” said a man who had returned to Tripoli after ten years as a refugee in Norway. “There are too many weapons around. You can’t vote like this.”

I think Libyans would be angry if the election was delayed but he has a point. A few hours after we arrived, a gang of some 300 men attacked the headquarters of the election commission in Benghazi, Libya’s second city, famed as the cradle of the revolution which overthrew Colonel Gaddafi last year.

They’re angry because they say the east of the country is under-represented in seats for the new constituent assembly to be elected next Saturday. In fact, the number of seats was carefully worked out according to population numbers, and then tipped a little in favour of the east, but reason doesn’t work with men who smash computers and set fire to ballot papers. They want more autonomy for their region, which was neglected during the 42 years of Gaddafi’s rule, and they don’t see voting as a way of making their point.

That, rather than who wins and who loses, is what’s at stake. Libyans I met during the revolution last year said they wanted democracy. Now we’ll see if they can prevail.

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2 reader comments

  1. Andrew Dundas says:

    It took our country many hundreds of years to convert our embryonic rule-of law (ie, Magna Carta) into the full democracy of 1930; when all women got the vote on the same basis as men. It took us some decades later to create and learn how to handle ‘free speech’. We’re still learning – well at least I am.

    True enough, Libya can play catch-up by copying other democracies. But it will take some years to create the special culture of democracy. Your encouraging reports suggest that Libyans are moving up that particular learning curve with admirable speed.

    I hope you can keep us informed of future achievements in Libya.

  2. Philip says:

    I agree. We tend to take a myopic & complacent view that everyone should copy our particular form of democracy. Yet as an example, we can hardly say we’re a shining light. 4 or 5 yearly elections where the ruling elite remain in place is scarcely very democratic. We have one party which claims to be on the side of the people yet (1964-70, 74-79, 1997-2010) did little to affect the power & influence & wealth of the ruling elite. The only difference between Labour & the Conservatives is that the latter are comfortable with the present situation, the mouthpiece of the ruling elite, whereas Labour are uncomfortable, but cowed & ineffective.We are an increasingly unequal society, wherethe poor get blamed, stigmatised & state support reduced, while the rich get their taxes cut. Let’s just hope the Libyans look to somewhere like Sweden for their model.

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