The last few weeks saw a historic day pass for Libya as ‘free’ elections were held for the first time in 50 years! The vote is for a 200 member legislature assembly to replace the Council. A prime minister and constitution will follow in 2013.
Arab Spring Elections
The news may resonate familiarity with a lot of people especially since the rise of the Arab Spring. Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen as well as Libya have been successful in ousting their leaders from power or demanding constitutional reform. All three countries experienced elections of some sort earlier this year:Egypt’s presidential elections were held over the 23rd-24th May and main elections were held on the 16th and 17th June after Hosni Mobarak was overthrown from his 30 year undemocratic presidential rule. Tunisia, on the 25th October 2011, elected a body to write a new constitution nine months after they overthrew President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali; and Yemen saw hundreds voting to replace longtime leader Abdullah Saleh, after 33 years of authoritarian rule. Morocco’s protests were inspired by the series of uprisings in the Arab world. Disenfranchised by social, political and economic issues that have plagued the region since the dawn of it’s independence. King Mohammed VI agreed to form a commission tasked with comprehensive constitutional reform and hold a referendum agreeing the draft constitution.
Election Day Predictions
So what can be expected from election day post autocracy?
‘Mass jubilation’ was witnessed in Libya as a feeling of freedom hit the people after being given rights many may not have possessed in their lifetimes. People gathered at Martyr’s square, waved their ink stained fingers with pride and adorned the revolutionary colors of red, black, and green. On the birth of the Arab spring, Tunisia’s election day for a national constituent assembly, a similar feeling of mass euphoria was recorded plus a record 90% voting turnout. In Egypthowever, some observers noted that the same euphoria felt on most election days after a national struggle, was not present. Many voted for one party, just so the other party did not come into power. And after all is said and done there is the realisation that whoever they voted for, they knew that it would be the military that would ultimately rule the country. 
Despite success in reaching election day, it usually happens amidst continuing violence. In Libya, tribal feuds continued and many cities are still under the control of fractious militia. Many polling stations came under attack, protests broke out to try and thwart the elections and two deaths were reported. Yemen’s election saw many battles involving security forces. In Tunisia, the violence happened post-elections when seats won by the People’s Petition had been disqualified due to funding issues. On hearing the news, clashes quickly broke out in the city of Sidi Bouzid. Egypt’s elections experienced continuous violence, mainly due to fears the military would not fulfil it’s promise to hand over power to civilian hands. Frustrations came to a head, as the Msulim Brotherhood’s protest camp in Cairo was attacked and triggered skirmishes throughout the region. This preceded further violence as May’s election results saw Ahmed Shafiq come into second place, pitting against Islamist Justice and Construction Party’s (JCP) candidate Mohammed Morsi for the June elections. This saw further violence in Cairo as a gunfight broke out between street vendors.
Apart from some requests of vote recounting, there have been no allegations of corruption in Libya’s elections thus far, although the JCP have claimed that Jibril used ‘unfair tactics’ in his campaign. New elections like this usually bring out claims of corruption particularly as there is little or no experience in governing elections of this sort and lack of resources. In Tunisia, for example, the ISIE (Tunisia’s Independent High Election Commission) heard allegations of bribing voters with furniture, lambs for Eid-Al-Adha and money; although not enough evidence has been submitted to substantiate those claims. Likewise in Egypt, there is a vibrant marketplace of ‘vote traders’ that buy blocs of votes for any candidate. Unsurprisingly, as corruption has overhung most parliamentary elections in the region, in December 2011, activists took to the streets of Morocco to protest what they believed to be sham elections again, ironically, for a process that attracted much fewer voters than previous years. This may symbolise Morrocco’s disenchantment with the political process, which sets it apart from other countries that have experienced revolution, bordering all out civil war for the opportunity of democracy.
With the exception of Yemen, a one man race, there’s been keen interest from political parties far and wide: Libya has perhaps topped them all with 374 parties contesting the elections. Tunisia, Morrocco and Egypt have all seen the majority fall in favour of the political arm of Islamist organisation, the Muslim Brotherhood – The Justice and Construction Party (JCP). The JCP have in all cases succeeded to win majority in parliament, not by dictating strict shariah policies but offering solutions to the political, social and economic woes that plague these countries. Many were expecting the same outcome for Libya but surprisingly, early results have placed Mahmoud Jibril in the lead. Jibril was interim prime minister during the revolution and previously head of the National Economic Development Board and the National Planning Council under Gaddafi and therefore, one of the better known candidates.
Final results are due anytime soon now for Libya and the process for democracy will roll on. While there are trends among all for the Arab countries, there is no clear blueprint or template for the democratic process. The region shares a similar history and comparable experiences but these synomolies may not manifest to define their future.
A big thank you goes out to Sophia Akram our third guest writer.A great topic which is very close to Sophia’s heart please check her blog http://sophiaakram.wordpress.com/ she has some very insightful posts.
Her insight into the middle east is excellent.Here is a little information about her taken from her blog:
I am a freelance research and communications consultant with a special interest in Human Rights across Asia.
I do a mixture of pro-bono, paid and results-based work and have worked previously with the not for profit and public sector in issues around human rights and international development. I’m keen to work further with under-represented charities and want to create a space where they can gain a profile and raise funds with a focussed team as well as leveraging new opportunities. Please see my page on consultancy on how we can work together.
Organisations I’ve been involved with:
- Human Rights Commission Pakistan
- UK Department for International Development
- Tipping Point Film Fund
- Media Legal Defence Initiative
- Amnesty International
- Northern Ireland Office
- Action Against Hunger
- Dr.Sara Silvestri/ King Bouddain Institute
- Foreign & Commonwealth Office
- Home Office
- Ministry of Justice
- Lewisham Law centre
Please take a look and follow.Thanks once again Sophia hope you enjoy the cartoon as much as we enjoy your blog.keep up the good work best wishes and support from us @ The Cheese.