‘Party’ spirit moves aspiring Libyan leaders

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By Dominique Soguel / AFP

TRIPOLI: There may be no law governing the formation of political parties in the new Libya, but political and military personalities are wasting no time in launching their groups or coalitions.

Two parties — one centrist and the other headed by a commander of a union of revolutionary brigades — were formally launched in Tripoli on Monday alone and a third party focused on reform was due to be inaugurated on Tuesday.

In a country where political organizations of any kind were banned for decades under the iron-fisted rule of Moammer Qaddafi, ousted in last year’s popular uprising, these are crucial steps on the path to political development.

More than 1,000 people attended the grandiose launch of former interim oil and finance minister Ali Tarhuni’s National Centrist Party on Monday, where they were fed and provided with sleek information packages on the party.

The program of the party, part of a coalition formed last week by Mahmud Jibril, former interim prime minister, puts a heavy emphasis on educating citizens and creating economic opportunities for Libyan men and women.

“The presence of a centrist party will help protect women’s rights and empower women,” Ahlam Al-Haj, an endorser of Tarhuni’s party, told AFP, adding it could counteract movements with stricter interpretations of Islam.

“We are in the middle and any radicalization is something we oppose,” Tarhuni told AFP at the sidelines of the launch, adding he hopes the party will grow along the lines of a grassroots movement.

Tarhuni described a lot of current political activity as “white noise” and predicted that many of the smaller political associations will disappear and be absorbed by larger groups before June, when elections are due to be held.

“What is remarkable is we have all those people who are learning the political game, who are fighting,” he said, acknowledging that “90 percent” of the population remains confused and outside that process.

Tarhuni also hoped that any future law governing the formation of political parties prohibits completely “outside financing” and “limits the role of money in politics,” which he described as potentially destructive.

At a separate event, Abdullah Nakir, head of a Tripoli-based union of revolutionary brigades, launched the Summit party in a small gathering featuring a live band trumpeting the new national anthem.

The launch of Nakir’s party marks one of the first instances of a military personality throwing his hat into the political ring. Nascent parties typically turn to regionally organized brigades and even sports clubs for supporters.

Like the dozens of other parties formed in the last few months, the Summit party lists Islam as the religion of the state and primary source of legislation — but is accommodating of other religions.

There is no formal registration process or criteria to guide new parties.
But Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council discourages the formation of parties that draw on revolutionary brigades to shape up their constituency and bans servicemen in the national army from entering politics.

“No military persons can create parties,” said NTC spokesman Mohammed Harizi, adding that such a provision applies to members of the national army but not necessarily to brigade commanders like Nakir who were civilians before 2011.

“We don’t advise rebel commanders to form parties although they are also civilians. We advise them to join the military or hand over their weapons and go back to the civilian life and then they can create political parties.”

The lack of an independent judiciary to monitor the political process raises concerns for Hadi Shaluf, a supporter of Nakir’s party.

“We need an independent judiciary to monitor the formation and activities of parties” such as in post-war Germany, which banned the Nazis from forming political associations, he said at the launch of the Summit party in Tripoli.

Others worry that the majority of the population is left out of the loop and retains a negative perception of parties — the NTC only last month scrapped a law that criminalized the formation of political parties, in effect since 1972.

“We are not ready for elections yet because people still have the (Qaddafi-era) idea that parties are evil and would prefer to vote for individuals,” a local journalist said.

Mohammed Abu Saleh, who works in the education sector, laments the limited information for Libyans seeking to find out about their country’s political development, but he insists that fears of tribalism are unfounded.

“All parties are now against tribal logic and for national unity,” he said.


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