Contrary to a plethora of Western political analysis and media commentary following the 25 June 2014 general elections for the new Libyan parliament, the Council of Representatives, the State of Libya is not in chaos, it is simply in transition. Power is never given; it is won by blood, sweat, and strategy. The democratic process is an ideal that takes years –if not centuries– to develop and implement comprehensively. Recent analysis asserting that the 630,000 voter turnout of the 1.509 million registered Libyan voters is a sign of no confidence on part of the electorate in the face of claims of government corruption, and escalating tensions along political, regional, ethnic, and local lines, is politically insensible. Due to valid and not abstract security reasons, many polling stations in Libya’s east and southeast regions were closed, including Derna (east) and Kufra (south east). Surely closed polling stations had an impact on voter turnout notwithstanding news of the Benghazi-based assassination of revered, human rights lawyer, Ms. Salwa Bughaighis when she returned home shortly after casting her ballot. In keeping with democratic ideals, the Libyan Election Commission will keep 15 seats in the 200-seat parliament vacant since elections could not be held in Derna, Kufra, and other areas of the country, and have committed to rescheduling elections to ensure the new parliament’s legitimacy until a permanent constitution is approved and ratified.
In February 2014, the current legislative body, the General National Council (GNC), approved the notion of electing a Council of Representatives, to calm voter frustration over the slow pace of political reform, after the GNC could not meet its 18-month deadline to adopt a new constitution. The mission of the new elected parliament, the Council of Representatives, is to complete the unfinished business of the GNC which includes submitting a permanent constitution for public vote and administering transitional presidential elections. The Council of Representatives, like its legislative predecessor, could possibly be extended by a referendum given public support; however, it is worth noting that due to public opposition the GNC had to dissolve. Libya faces many challenges to its political transition notwithstanding the many political factions that are congesting the channels of the nation’s newly formed democracy.
Since the country’s 23 October 2011 liberation from the 42-year old Qadhafi regime, political insecurity has deepened with armed militia groups and locally organized politicians challenging national government authority, including the two main parties of the GNC, the National Forces Alliance (NFA) and the Muslim Brotherhood Justice and Construction Party (JCP) for influence and power. Both NFA and JCP support the current political roadmap, however, the former is in favor of amending the political isolation law which bans politicians who held senior posts in the Qadhafi regime from running for office in new regime. The two, warring political groups that are against the current transitional plan include retired-General Khalifa Haftar’s National Army, which is not recognized by the GNC, and the armed religious group Ansar al-Sharia. Ansar al-Sharia was involved in the September 2012 U.S. Consulate attack in Benghazi and is also heavily influential in the coastal towns of Darnah and Sirte. The group rejects the ongoing political transition in Libya until all laws are compliant with Sharia law. Since mid-May Khalifa Haftar has launched an attack against Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi to which the GNC has denounced officially. The three other political groups in contention for authority include the King Idris 1951 Constitution-inspired, self-rule advocating Cyrenaica Federalists whose current rebel forces led by former Qadhafi regime Petroleum Force head Ibrahim Jathran, occupy major oil facilities and ports costing the country billions in monthly oil revenue; the Amazigh, Tibu, and Taureg ethnic minority groups who are calling for cultural rights, including the listing of respective languages as official languages in the new constitution. The group also wants decisions by the Constitutional Drafting Assembly (CDA) to be made by consensus instead of majority rule to ensure veto power against any and all articles they deem unjust towards the country’s ethnic minorities. In February the ethnic minority groups boycotted the CDA elections further motiving the GNC to adopt a notion to dissolve and elect a new parliament on 25 June 2014. The final group of topic is local councils, which play an increasingly important role in governing the country since 2011. Local councils are critical to disarming local militias, and serving as conduits to central government institutions.
With all of these political factions on top of national security and economic considerations, Libya is doing a better job than most former dictatorships in terms of staying the democratic course. The West should realize by now that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and democracy takes time. In the United States, the world’s leading democracy, a Revolutionary War was fought followed by a Civil War and bloody uprisings threatening the nation’s democracy time and time again. Just recently the country celebrated the anniversary of the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, legislation that was hard won in the backdrop 50th of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, and followed by numerous killings of political and civil rights advocates who championed a more inclusive democracy–painful reminders that power is never given.
Libya, again, is in transition, and not chaos.
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