Africa

Can Libya's elections end the fighting?

  • 25 June 2014
  • From the section Africa
reuters image Image copyright Reuters

On 25 June, Libyans go to the polls to choose 200 members of the new parliament, the House of Representatives, against a backdrop of continuing violence between rival militias.

The new body will replace the interim parliament elected in July 2012, in the country's first free election in over 40 years. The United Nations has described the elections as "an important step in Libya's transition towards stable democratic governance", but there are fears that the country's security problems will overshadow the poll.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Gen Khalifa Haftar is leading operations against Libya's Islamists

The election date was announced just over a month ago - days after renegade General Khalifa Haftar launched an operation aimed at cleansing Libya of Islamist "terrorists". He has also vowed to lead an uprising against what he calls Libya's "Islamist-dominated" government.

As a result, there is a fear that the process has been rushed, which could further deepen Libya's political crisis and compromise the new parliament's legitimacy.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The parliament building was raided by militants in May 2014

How does the electoral system work?

Candidates are standing for 200 seats. To discourage political infighting between parties, candidates must run as independents rather than as party representatives. This marks a change from the previous system, under which nearly half of the seats were earmarked for political parties and blocs, while the rest were contested by independents.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Very few expatriates have registered to vote

All candidates must be over 25, and citizens with dual nationality are eligible to vote and run for office.

Who is running?

The High National Election Commission (HNEC) has announced that 1,734 candidates will compete for 200 seats, down from the 2,639 who contested the 2012 election to the interim parliament, the General National Congress (GNC).

Will Libyans turn out?

A low turnout is predicted due to a lack of preparation and security issues, particularly in big cities such as Tripoli and Benghazi.

According to Reuters, just over 1.5 million of the 3.4 eligible voters have registered for the poll. Only 10,087 of these are expatriates, according to the election commission.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Members of Libya's Berber community say they will boycott the poll

The poll is likely to be boycotted by members of the Berber (Amazigh) minority, which has demanded that its identity and language be enshrined in the new constitution.

Will the east endorse the new parliament?

The people of Benghazi, who see their city as the cradle of the revolution, have long complained of marginalization by the Tripoli government and have agitated for greater autonomy.

In November 2013, federalist leaders named former air force commander Abd-Rabbu al-Barasi prime minister of the eastern region, and insisted that Libya be divided into three self-governing regions based on the historic administrative divisions of Cyrenaica in the east, Fezzan in the south-west and Tripolitania in the west.

Image caption Libya's regions had federal powers 1951-1963

The leader of Libya's federalist movement Ibrahim Jathran used his militia, the Cyrenaica Self-Defence Force, to seize the country's major oil-exporting ports and has accused the government of exploiting Libya's wealth "to serve their agendas".

In a move to reassure the population of Benghazi, the government has decided that the new parliament will be based in the city.

However, with all the recent fighting in the city, it is not clear how soon, if ever, that promise will be implemented.

Will polls end the violence?

On 10 June, a spokesman for Gen Haftar's forces said they would agree to observe a ceasefire but only during the 25 June election.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Gen Haftar's "Operation Dignity" is a divisive issue in Libya

The following day, the leader of the Islamist Ansar al-Sharia militia, Muhammad al-Zahawi, denied that there was a ceasefire agreement. A Benghazi-based newspaper quoted him as saying that the "only interaction with Operation Dignity leaders involves weapons".

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