Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

Coleman maps the intersections between political reform, economic growth, and U.S. policy in the developing world.

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Libya’s New Election Law: Part II

by Isobel Coleman
January 5, 2012

Libyan PM Keib and NTC Chairman Jalil speak in Benghazi, Libya, December 26, 2011 (Esam Al-Fetori/Courtesy Reuters). Libyan PM Keib and NTC Chairman Jalil speak in Benghazi, Libya, December 26, 2011 (Esam Al-Fetori/Courtesy Reuters).

I’ve received a number of comments on my post yesterday about Libya’s new (draft) election law, so I’m revisiting that topic again today.  First, for those of you who are interested (and several have asked), here’s a link to an unofficial English translation of the draft law. Second, in a new development, the Libyan interim government yesterday scrapped the 1972 law banning political parties. In anticipation of this, new parties have been forming over the past several months and many more are undoubtedly in the wings. Civil society, lacking for decades in Libya, is resurrecting itself, although the challenges it faces will be formidable. Religiously oriented groups will likely have an edge both in organizational capacity and in financing.

Now that I’ve had a bit more time to peruse the full translation, I will note a few additional concerns:

–          Voter Registration (Part 4, Article 5): voters must register to vote and get a voter card. This posed some difficulties in Tunisia and will likely pose logistical challenges in Libya, too.

–          Procedures for Libyans abroad to vote (Part 5) have not been defined, although expats are allowed to vote. How/where their votes will be allocated remains to be seen.

–          Restrictions on campaigning (Part 9, Article 35) seem a bit onerous: there is to be no campaigning in “places of worship, public and/or private educational institutions, public roads, and public and/or governmental buildings.” As one Libyan reader complained via email to me: “This leaves us, I suppose, the Rexus and Corenthia hotels to hold a campaign rally. A room that holds 200 people goes for about $3,500 for few hours.  Even these may not be available since I believe they’re partly owned by the Government!”

Reactions from other readers echo my concerns about curbing women’s rights and excluding Libyans who have lived and worked abroad. Some worry that the law will favor those with money and organizational skills (although that is hard to legislate against anywhere—check out the U.S. presidential election). One reader from Libya, who has lived and worked in the West, complains about a “Salafi mindset within the NTC leadership responsible for appointing the drafting committee” and fears that they are “working behind the scenes to impose a sharia-based constitution, curb women’s rights and individual freedom, and exclude foreign-educated liberals whom they see as potential rivals.” Comments posted on Libya’s electoral commission’s Facebook page reiterate many of these themes: many people have posted requests that those holding dual nationalities not be excluded; men and women have asked that there be a larger quota for women; one person on the Facebook page bemoaned that too many experienced people will be excluded: “Simply any person with leadership or who has practical or political, social, or managerial experience either lived abroad and has another citizenship because of the long time that he lived there, or participated in a conference or in some committee, but wasn’t necessarily a member of a revolutionary committee… Most of these people participated in the revolution either with their money, their work, or their lives… how we can wrong them like this when we also lose so much by not benefitting from their experience?”

On a more positive note, the Economist Intelligence Unit predicts that Libya’s economy in 2012 will be the fastest growing of any, with GDP growth exceeding 20 percent this year as the country rebuilds. To sustain robust growth, the country needs to be able to attract and retain the large pool of foreign-educated Libyans who make up some of its most capable human capital. Let’s hope that whatever new government comes to power leads the country in a pragmatic direction.

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