Libyan polling station workers check ballot papers and electoral material at a school in downtown Tripoli
Libyan polling station workers check ballot papers and electoral material at a school in downtown Tripoli. Libya's election on Saturday could well bring Islamists to power, but liberals under the leadership of the architects of the revolt that ousted Moamer Kadhafi say they too are confident of a win. © Gianluigi Guercia - AFP
Libyan polling station workers check ballot papers and electoral material at a school in downtown Tripoli
A Libyan national flag is seen through a hole in a destroyed building in Libya on the eve of the election
A Libyan national flag is seen through a hole in a destroyed building on Tripoli Street in Misrata, Libya, on the eve of the election. Libya's election on Saturday could well bring Islamists to power, but liberals under the leadership of the architects of the revolt that ousted Moamer Kadhafi say they too are confident of a win. © Giovanni Diffidenti - AFP
A Libyan national flag is seen through a hole in a destroyed building in Libya on the eve of the election
Libyan youth smoke narghile on one of the Misrata beaches on the eve of the Libyan General Assembly election
Libyan youth smoke narghile on one of the Misrata beaches on the eve of the Libyan General Assembly election. Libya's election on Saturday could well bring Islamists to power, but liberals under the leadership of the architects of the revolt that ousted Moamer Kadhafi say they too are confident of a win. © Giovanni Diffidenti - AFP
Libyan youth smoke narghile on one of the Misrata beaches on the eve of the Libyan General Assembly election
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Dominique Soguel, AFP
Last updated: July 7, 2012

Both Islamists and liberals are sure of victory in Libya vote

Libya's election on Saturday could well bring Islamists to power, but liberals under the leadership of the architects of the revolt that ousted Moamer Kadhafi say they too are confident of a win.

With more than 100 parties running in the upcoming polls of Libya, a nation with no recent history of democracy and no polling technology, it is impossible to predict the make-up of the General National Congress.

But three parties are seen as key contenders, including the liberal Alliance of National Forces, led by war-time prime minister Mahmud Jibril, which faces stiff competition from Islamist parties Justice and Construction and Al-Wattan.

"We don't have surveys, so really we have no idea how powerful or how weak we are," said Ali Tarhuni, leader of a centrist party within the coalition, who served as the rebels' oil and finance minister during the 2011 conflict.

The winds of the Arab Spring that ushered Islamists into power in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt may well bring the same result on Saturday in the first national election since Kadhafi was toppled.

Mohammed Sawan, head of the Justice and Construction which was launched by Libya's Muslim Brotherhood, said his party enjoys a broad base of support in the conservative country unlike liberal "technocrats."

"We believe that the National Congress should have a solid bloc that has popular backing across the country," he said.

Sawan added that his party aims to dominate the incoming congress by linking up with similar parties, such as Al-Wattan, which draws on the popularity of members such as former jihadist Abdelhakim Belhaj, and the National Front.

Eighty out of 200 seats in the assembly have been allocated to party representatives. The party with the top votes will de facto need to reach out to 120 independents and smaller parties to dominate the legislature.

Proponents of political Islam believe that by banding together they can dominate the legislature, which was abruptly stripped of its constitution-making powers on Thursday.

But the Alliance of National Forces, which includes personalities such as Jibril and Tarhuni who proved themselves during the "crisis-period," or the early stages of last year's war against Kadhafi, also stand a good chance.

"Our goal is to get the majority, we will see later whether we need alliances or not," said its secretary general Faisal al-Krekshi

He rejects the "naive" notion that Libya's political scene is split between moderates and Islamists noting that "all Libyans are Muslim and all parties recognise Islam as the main source of legislation."

The dichotomy he prefers to draw is that of experience and inexperience.

"For the reconstruction of Libya, we need technocrats with experience, not newcomers testing the waters," he said, pointing out the weak grip on security of the ruling National Transitional Council now dominated by Islamists.

"The current authorities have clearly failed to manage the crisis."

"This is no time for ideologies, we need to foster unity," he stressed.

There are no major policy difference between the nascent parties, with all of them advertising themselves as nationalists, democrats, and Islamists in the same breath, while promising to tackle security, health and the economy.

All the parties agree that Islamic law, or sharia, should be a reference of legislation in the Muslim nation. Differences tend to centre on what system of governance Libya should have -- presidential, parliamentary or a mix.

That is now a decision to be made by a constituent authority of 60 experts which is to be elected by the people rather than appointed by the incoming General National Congress.

The fate of Libya's parties rides on the tribal and personal networks they can tap into in the run-up to the elections, what alliances are likely to be developed in the congress, and the impact of their advertising.

"They're all in a position to do well," said Carlo Binda, director of the National Democratic Institute's branch in Libya, noting none have run in elections before.

Parties were banned as an act of treason during the 42 years of Kadhafi's iron-grip on power. There are 142 parties fielding 1,206 candidates in the election.

The result is a lot of white noise.

"A lot of people haven't been able to really grasp how party (or independent) candidates differ from one another but they are willing to go out to vote and it will be very interesting to see what the result is," Binda said.

© AFP 2012

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