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Libyan Elections: An Overview

[Candidate Radhya Bourawi casts her vote in Libya's first post-revolution election. Image from Samia Mahgoub/United Nations Development Programme] [Candidate Radhya Bourawi casts her vote in Libya's first post-revolution election. Image from Samia Mahgoub/United Nations Development Programme]

Update: As of Thursday evening, none of the party list constituencies have reported 100% of precincts. However, the Libya Herald has projected the following results: 

National Forces Alliance - 40 Seats
Justice and Construction Party - 18 seats
The National Front - 3 seats
The National Central Party - 2 seats
The Union for Homeland Party - 2 seats

Fifteen smaller parties are expected to win one seat each. 

[This post will be updated as election results are finalized.] 

Libya's historic elections commenced on Saturday with nationwide celebrations. Over 339 parties and 2,563 candidates competed for a combined two hundred seats in the General National Congress (GNC), the nation’s first elected body since 1964. The GNC will replace the National Transitional Council (NTC) and dissolve the current interim government. The GNC is tasked with appointing a new government, and was originally designated to appoint a Constitutional Committee. On 5 July, the NTC announced that Libyan citizens will instead directly elect committee members within three months.

The Constitutional Committee will consist of twenty representatives from each of Libya’s three regions, and will submit a constitution to the GNC within in 120 days of its convocation. Once approved by a two-thirds plus one majority, a national referendum will take place. If the constitution is adopted by the majority of Libyan citizens, congressional elections will follow a maximum of 210 days later. 

Candidates from party lists were elected by proportional representation, in which seats were distributed to parties according to the number of votes they received. Individual candidates were elected by a simple majority in their constituencies, akin to the system in the US. They are likely to align themselves with parties after the election, and several parties have already endorsed individual candidates.  Members of the NTC and the current executive government were not allowed to run. There are eighty-four female candidates running as independents. By law, fifty percent of candidates in party lists are reserved for females, though not all parties fulfilled the quota by exact figures. 

The High National Elections Committee (HNEC) has updated vote counts daily since 3 July, when overseas voting opened to expats. Voting in Libya was officially designated for Saturday, though some eastern cities voted on Sunday due to local obstructions. Preliminary election results were revealed yesterday. Observers made few predictions of the outcome due to the sheer quantity and obscurity of the parties and candidates; not all parties extended national reach, and independent candidates were known primarily in their constituencies. There is a total of seventy-three districts, though some did not have party-based ballots and a smaller number did not have individual candidate representatives. 

Libyans tweeted their election experiences excitedly, using the hashtag #LYelect. Tweets joked that they had never witnessed Libyans waking up so early en masse.  Pictures of “blue fingers,” of old men, women, and injured freedom fighters, were uploaded throughout the day. Libyans captured the excitement in the faces of individuals, from voters, to politicians, to the citizens working the polls, as well as the massive crowds in major city squares. The official Instagram handle posted pictures of the election here.

While joyous scenes of celebration continued into Saturday night, not all were content with the elections. Some federalists, as well as non-federalists, demanded a reallocation of the seat distribution. These groups claimed that the east was not represented fairly, and that elections should be post-pointed to rectify the disparity. The seats for the National Congress are based roughly on demography, with sixty seats for the east, one hundred for the west, and forty for the south. Some smaller towns across the nation were combined into single constituencies with one representative. 

Shortly before election day, the Zawiya city council reportedly acceded seats to Benghazi, though the gesture did not affect final seat distribution. Some of those opposed to the seat distribution abstained from election in protest, while others adopted more confrontational means: The self-declared Cyrenaica Transitional Council imposed a blockade at Wadi al-Ahmar, a symbolic barrier between eastern and western Libya, which hampered both military and civilian movement.  Additionally, voting was delayed in Ajdabia and other towns after small groups vandalized election materials. 

Yet the majority of citizens from the east did turn out (seventy percent, according to official estimates) and celebrations in Benghazi, the cradle of the revolution, were as loud and boisterous as those in Tripoli's Maydan al Shuhada. Human shields were formed to protect electoral stations, and witnesses claim the Cyrenaican flag was torn from the city square. Public opinion on the merits of federalism remains unknown, but voters are adamant to express their choice in the election for the constitution that will make that determination. The Cyrenaican Council announced its impending dissolution on Monday in light of the high voter turnout. A council representative stated that while they disagree with the timing and schematics of the National Congress elections, they will not impede the Libyan peoples' clear prerogative. Demonstrations at Wadi al-Ahmar have ceased, and the threats to oil fields were also withdrawn.

The Results

The parties fielding the most candidates tended to have the greatest name recognition. Though each party has its own distinctive platform, it is important to note that their primary role in the GNC will be to pass the constitution before it is referred to the public and to appoint an interim Prime Minister, who will then select members for a transitional government.  Its mandate beyond these duties is ambiguous.  Thus, at this time, some policy platforms may be less important than preferences regarding the system of government, congressional seat distribution, and similar long-term issues. 

A few observations can be made amongst the top few parties. Most parties agree that a justice system needs to be erected before reconciliation with previous regime figures can begin. The parties also tend to oppose federalism but support strong decentralization. Additionally, each of the top parties emphasizes their moderate character, some while accusing others of secularism or religious extremism. The Libya Herald notes that the liberal/religious dichotomy is difficult to impose in this context. The political spectrum created by outsiders, who seem eager to identify the "Islamists" and the "secularists" in order to declare a final victory for one or the other (and to determine a revolution’s worthiness) seems defunct, at least in this first election. 

Counting began immediately after polls closed. Speculation quickly emerged that Mahmoud's Jibril's party, the National Forces Alliance, was in the lead. The results for independent candidate races trickled out on Sunday and into Monday. Many of these winners have been announced here (Arabic). Some districts have already declared party winners as well, which can also be viewed in the previous link. We will update this page as results become finalized. 

Major Party Contenders Include: 

The National Forces Alliance
Notable Figures:  Mahmoud Jibril, former interim prime minister of the NTC.  
Number of Candidates: 70 
Twitter: @nffly

The National Forces Alliance is a coalition of 58 political parties. Mahmoud Jibril is the party's leading figure, and is amongst the most influential political figures. His previous service with the NTC disbarred his candidacy, though his picture still graced most party campaign posters. His favorability is somewhat contentious, as some are uncomfortable with his previous ties to the Gaddafi regime. However, his experience, coupled with his charisma, rendered him the most qualified character to many Libyans. 

The Alliance is positioning itself as a party for the elections, but describes itself as a "shadow government." It is among Libya's more liberal parties, though it denounces any secular ascriptions (often made by competing parties). Jibril states that the NFA is a moderate Islamic movement that will lend itself to the influences of Sharia. 

The Justice and Construction Party
Notable Figures: Mohammed Sawan, former political prisoner from Misrata (leader).
Number of Candidates: 73  
The Justice and Construction Party is Libya's biggest party.  Only forty percent of its members identify with the Muslim Brotherhood, which was banned in Libya for three decades, but it is acknowledged as Libya's primary religious party. The party has struggled with balancing its pan-Islamist leanings and citizens' apparent distaste for foreign-backed political figures. There are thirty-five female candidates. 

The party is against federalism but supports strong decentralization. They place emphasis on youth involvement in Libya's reconstruction, and advocate a strong army as well as an independent judiciary. 

The National Front 
Notable Figures: Muhammed Yusef Magaraif, former leader of the NFSL (leader).
Number of Candidates: 45 

The National Front Party was founded by former members of the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, an opposition group founded in the 1980s with the intent of removing Gaddafi from power and establishing an institutional democracy. Many of its members were forced to seek asylum after a series of attacks on Gaddafi's life. Though it is only the sixth-largest party in Libya, it holds substantial name recognition because of the NFSL's anti-Gaddafi activity.  Its previous ties to foreign powers, including the CIA, do not appear to negatively impact the party's commitment to Libyan affairs. 

The National Front supports decentralization but strongly opposes federalism.  It also supports a parliamentary system, and is primarily concerned with regime justice, compensation for martyrs’ families and for people injured in the war, and empowering women. The party describes itself as liberal and progressive, and has twenty-two female candidates.

The Nation Party 
Notable Figures: Ali Sallabi, cleric and former Abu Salim prisoner; Abdul Hakim Belhadj, former head of the Tripoli Military Council and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. 
Number of Candidates: 59

The Nation Party supports a parliamentary system, opposes federalism, and favors decentralization. Their primary concerns include forming a strong national army. Members describe the party as religious, progressive, and inclusive. The party is governed by an executive committee rather than a single leader. 

Ali Sallabi is not looked upon kindly by some who perceived his conduct during the revolution, particularly in media interviews, as erratic. Belhadj evokes similar sentiments in some citizens, as his leadership of the Tripoli Brigade underwent much scrutiny. Both figures are widely known, but have received sharp criticism for alleged backing by Qatar. 

The Union for the Homeland
Notable Figures: Abdurrahaman Sewehli, grandson of anti-colonial leader Ramadan Sweheli and famed Gaddafi exile (leader). 
Number of Candidates: 60 

The Union for the Homeland is a coalition of parties. The party’s slogan, “new Libya, new faces” reflects its strong support for justice before reconciliation, and is viewed by some as particularly antagonistic to Mahmoud Jibril’s leadership.The Sewehlis are a prominent Misuratan family but the surname is widely recognized throughout Libya, and the party itself is based in Tripoli. Preliminary election results indicate that the Union for the Homeland has won the most votes in Misurata. 

Party representatives state that its primary concern is the constitution, and that it will not be sidetracked by issues that the General National Congress is not yet authorized to oversee. The party supports strong decentralization, though it opposes federalism, and prefers a semi-presidential system.


[1] Umar Khan, “NTC takes responsibility for constitution from National Conference,” Libya Herald, 9July, 2012.

[2] “POMED Backgrounder: Previewing Libya’s Elections,” 5 July, 2012.

[3] “Libya Election Update: 101 Polling Stations Prevented from Opening for Security Reasons,” Tripoli Post, 7 July, 2012.

[4] Libyan News Agency, 9July, 2012.

[5] [Interview originally from BBC Arabic] 9July, 2012.

[6] George Grant, “Party Profile: The National Forces Alliance,” Libya Herald, 1 July, 2012.

[7] “POMED Backgrounder: Previewing Libya’s Elections,” 5 July, 2012.

[8] Umar Khan, “Party Profile: Justice & Construction Party.” Libya Herald, 30 June, 2012.

[9] Umar Khan, “Party Profile: The National Front,” Libya Herald, 30 June, 2012.

[10] Umar Khan, “Party Profile: The Nation Party,” Libya Herald. 30 June, 2012.

[11] “POMED Backgrounder: Previewing Libya’s Elections,” 5 July, 2012.

[12] Michael Cousins, “Party Profile: The Union for Homeland,” Libya Herald, 4 July, 2012.   


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