Libya elections lead to reform

12 July 2012

History is made as Libyans go to the polls to elect their first national assembly since the Gaddafi regime. Now the challenge is to drive reform quickly by drawing up a constitution and stabilising the economy

Libya’s elections have been well contested. More than 3,700 candidates vied for the 200 seats in the new General National Congress (GNC). The mood in the build-up to the poll was volatile, with pockets of unrest across the country. 

Protesters stormed the Benghazi headquarters of the electoral authority on 1 July, burning ballot papers. Gunmen also briefly brought a halt to exports from the eastern oil terminals, shutting in about half of Libya’s export capacity. There were also calls for a boycott of the elections in Benghazi.

But it has not been all bad news. More than 60 per cent of Libya’s electorate made their way to the ballot box to take part in the historic event and, in many cases, the militias were well disciplined and actually provided election security, along with policing their own areas in the absence of state apparatus.

Yet while the instances of violence and protests have been relatively few, the situation remains fragile and they, nevertheless, provide an indication of the challenges ahead.

Progress has been bumpy, but the establishment of the national assembly is a key moment. Libya is at a historic crossroads the newly elected authorities will face the challenge of stabilising the economy, restoring security and uniting the country. 

What shape the new government will take remains unclear. The new national congress will have just a few months to come up with a constitution that will determine the future of Libya as a federalist or centrally controlled nation. Calls for autonomy from the eastern and southern regions are by no means widespread, but after 42-years under the quixotic regime of Muammar Gaddafi, few want a return of a dominant central government.

Whether this translates into stability and sustained economic growth will depend on how the new government manages the competing interests of Libya’s factions and its ability to establish the rule of law.

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