Libya’s first elections are set for July 7. The Carnegie Endowment’s Frederic Wehrey posted what I think is the best assessment so far. Normally, I would take more time to frame an article like this–but it’s so good you should just read it all by clicking HERE. Included is a very useful overview of the major parties now competing to govern a country with great potential and serious problems. Here are some quotes to get you started:
Campaigning is already under way for what is an ambitious foray into the world of nationwide elections. Out of 3,707 vetted candidates, Libyans will elect a 200-member General National Congress (GNC) that will replace the NTC. In its first session, the GNC will elect its president and will have to appoint a prime minister within 30 days. It will then have to form a body to draft a constitution, present the draft in 120 days, and hold a referendum on the constitution.
Much of the concern stems from the strident pronouncements of the Cyrenaica Transitional Council, a Benghazi-based entity that announced its existence on March 6 with calls for eastern autonomy and, later, a general election boycott. Unsurprisingly, the council’s supporters hail from notable families in the east who enjoyed prominence under the Senussi monarchy, before Qaddafi shifted power and resources to the west. Its leader is Ahmed Zubayr Senussi, a member of the NTC and the great nephew of King Idris Senussi, who ruled Libya when it became an independent state.
Yet, these calls for autonomy are by no means mainstream or widespread. In March, when the Cyrenaica council was mounting pro-autonomy demonstrations, there were simultaneous counterdemonstrations in both the east and Tripoli, with placards reading “No to Fitna [Chaos], No to Secession, Yes to National Unity.” The majority of Libyan parties are operating within the framework of a unified, centrally governed state.
The possibility of domestic unrest disrupting elections also looms large for some. In recent weeks, Libya has witnessed tribal confrontations in the west, ethnic clashes on the southern periphery, and Islamist agitation in the east. In many respects, the fighting represents a series of micro-conflicts—the last convulsions of the revolution, a settling of scores, and, in many cases, a purging of the remnants of the ancien régime. Most of the fighting has been between towns, tribes, or prominent personalities who enjoyed favoritism under Qaddafi or defected early in the revolution on the one side and revolutionaries who have few ties to the old order on the other. It has little to do with tensions surrounding the upcoming vote.
Libya’s Islamist parties, unlike their counterparts elsewhere in the world, are relatively new to politics and, from their initial campaigning, appear inclined toward pragmatism and consensus building. The country’s tribal, ethnic, and regional divides are not as stark as those in Iraq, Syria, or Yemen. By any measure, then, the election process has been a remarkable achievement in a country devoid of participatory politics for nearly half a century.
PS. I’ll be on vacation next week and off the grid.