Election results were announced on Wednesday in the first democratic contest since dictator Muammar Gaddafi was torn from the power he held for 32 years. However, the results still fail to paint a clear picture.
Of the 200 seats up for grabs in the assembly, 120 seats were reserved for, and are now filled by, independent candidates, many of whom represent disparate political directions.
Of the 80 seats reserved for political parties, the Libya Herald is reporting Mahmoud Jibril’s National Forces Alliance won 39 seats. Jibril was the leader of the interim Nation Transitional Council and his party was the only group to gain more than three seats besides the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction Party, which won 17.
The NFA and the JCP are clearly the most likely to be able to form a governing coalition, however, it is unclear where the allegiances of the 144 other politicians will land. “That’s the $64,000 question, right?” said Fadel Lamen, president of the American-Libyan Council. “Of course there are a lot of negotiations and contact with the independents by the political parties, but don’t forget some of those members are already members of political parties,” he added. Unlike in Egypt, party members in Libya were allowed to run as independents.
Lamen added that many who are not affiliated with any party will have local interests in mind when looking to become part of a coalition. “Some of those who are running as individuals are tribal or regional candidates and I’m sure that any alliance that they may have with any of the winners will have to be subject to some type of negotiations,” Lamen said. “Getting something for themselves or their tribe or their region.”
Two trends have been cited by the media that have questionable merit to them. The first is that the elections were a clear victory for women in Libya. Women won around 8 percent of the seats said Isobel Coleman, director of both the Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Initiative as well as the Women and Foreign Policy Program, both at the Council on Foreign Relations.
“Well it’s certainly higher than Egypt, which is 2 percent, and it’s nowhere near as high as Tunisia which is around 23 percent,” Colemans said. She said that a quota system for women was a divisive issue during the composition of the election rules. Ultimately it was rejected. The final decision was that every party had to alternate male and female on their lists for each district. This was seen as effectively giving women half the seats allotted to political parties. However, as Coleman points out, in an election where most parties never managed to win more than one seat in a district, the gender alternation was rendered irrelevant unless the party chose to put their female candidate first.
The second sound-bite widely reported is that ‘Libya is bucking the Islamic trend of Tunisia and Egypt.’ “I think it’s comparing apples and oranges,” Coleman said. “The Brotherhood in Egypt is an organization with very deep, not only religious roots but social roots, and political roots.” This was not the case in Libya, where they were never allowed to operate as openly under Gaddafi.
Coleman points out that it is not that the Libyan electorate is necessarily less sympathetic to Islamic parties, it’s that the Brotherhood in Libya “don’t have the same brand awareness that they have in Tunisia and Egypt.” Lamen thinks that the ‘Liberal vs. Islamist’ dichotomy in Libya is a false. “Liberalism and secularism in Libya is a very relative term. We have a lot of shades of grey. And that’s part of why the Islamists didn’t get too many seats.
There was no strong liberal group for them to contrast themselves with,” Lamen said the NFA specifically tried to avoid the label of “liberal.” Not only can the Libyan results dispel the notions of liberal parties defeating Islamist parties, but the NFA is not really a party at all, Lamen said. Instead, the NFA sees themselves as a coalition created in the lead-up to this election.
There is no assurance that all those elected will stay a part of the NFA once they get into the National Congress, and there is the possibility that some may have only joined the coalition because of its exposure and the chance to win more votes. “The question is not are we going to have paralysis, it’s how severe is the paralysis going to be,” Lamen said. “It can be total paralysis, or it can be partial paralysis. Ultimately we can live with partial paralysis.”