After War, Elections
Hearts and Minds
This Saturday marked a turning point in Libya’s modern history. After more than 40 years, the country held its first elections under fairly peaceful and transparent conditions. Though the election results are not expected to be confirmed for a few days, the leading coalition under Mahmoud Jibril has stated what most Libyans believe to be true: the results of the election are less important than the fact that elections have taken place. “The first winner is the Libyan people”.
After months of escalating tension over the elections with many in Eastern Libya threatening to boycott the vote in protest of what they consider an unfair representation in the new government, many were happily surprised that few violent incidents occurred. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon congratulated Libyans for the “peaceful and democratic spirit of the vote”.
According to reports from independent election observers one man was shot dead by a security officer in the town of Ajdabiya as he tried to steal a ballot box, while another was killed in a gun battle between protestors and backers of the poll in Benghazi. Also in Benghazi, a group of protestors stormed a polling station after voting began and set fire to hundreds of ballots in a public square. Meanwhile, the day before the vote, local gunmen in Eastern Libya blocked three main ports the day before the vote. However, the National Oil Corporation (NOC) confirmed on Sunday that their activities were back to normal.
While the conditions surrounding the elections were fairly positive, particularly considering the insecurity that has gripped Libya in recent months, it is still unclear whether voting in Southern Libya was equally peaceful. The region, which has seen on-going intertribal fighting over the last few months, was deemed too insecure for international election observers to send representatives.
Nevertheless, as voting closed officials claimed that 98% of the polling centers had opened and nearly 1.8 of the 2.8 million registered voters cast their ballot, a turnout of approximately 65%.
Libya should certainly be hailed for having held transparent and fair elections. However, the countries new leaders should be cognizant of the fact that elections are but just one aspect of participatory governance. Though elections are necessary for Libya to move past its authoritarian history, as the greivances of many Eastern Libyans suggest, much more needs to be done to promote reconciliation between regions that had been pitted against one another under the former government.
Many easterners are furious that their region, one of three in Libya, was only allotted 60 seats in the new assembly compared to 102 for the western region.