With Libya’s National Forces Alliance poised for a landslide victory in the weekend’s parliamentary elections, the conduct of the poll gave cause for both congratulation and concern, a democracy assistance official reports from Tripoli.
In a show of last minute organization, Libya’s High National Election Commission (HNEC) managed to confound its critics and administer an election that featured larger than expected turnout, reasonably good administration, patient but highly enthusiastic voters, and a festive atmosphere worthy of the country’s first election in 42 years.
Although enthusiastic crowds masked small problems, anecdotal reports from democracy assistance officials in Tripoli suggest that many voters were confused about their choices and there were a number of instances of active campaigning in and around polling places. By the end of voting day, traffic slowed to a halt as cars paraded honking their horns and citizens celebrated with fireworks and gunfire.
There were, however, serious problems in a number of constituencies. Armed men entered polling stations and disrupted proceedings in Benghazi. One school was burned and another ransacked. In Ajdabya, voting was suspended in some locations after threats by armed men and some ballot boxes were stolen. In Gheryan, polling staff were attacked, weapons discharged and ballot boxes stolen. There were other similar incidents across the country. In most cases, the HNEC received praise for reacting quickly and, in many cases, voting resumed with little delay.
Political party observers were present in many locations, but their numbers were lower than anticipated. The Muslim Brotherhood affiliated Justice and Development party observers were an exception – they were present in almost all polling stations visited by democracy assistance officials.
The liberal-leaning National Forces Alliance (NFA) appears to have a significant lead in vote rich areas like Tripoli and Benghazi. In trying to explain why Libya sidestepped the apparent Islamic tide in the region, one youth activist commented, “Egypt and Tunisia had their experiments with liberal and secular governments – and so will we.”
Although citizen-led or “domestic’ election observation was completely new to the country, Libyan civil society organizations fielded a larger than expected contingent of observers. Most were true volunteers – not receiving a stipend or even per diem for food and expenses – but they still managed to cover most of the country. Although their reports lack some of the detail that might be expected of more experienced groups, each of the coalitions received training and technical support from democracy assistance groups, and their data and impressions will be available to international observers and other analysts of the 2012 Libyan election. A short summary of their findings follows:
Summary of Domestic Election Observer preliminary findings:
Shahed coalition deployed 2,200 election observers in 13 constituencies covering 78% of the 1,548 polling centers, which were located in Libyan schools.
Rased coalition deployed 1,200 observers in eight of the 13 main constituencies.
Bedaya coalition deployed only in the Tripoli area with 250 observers and 74% coverage of all centers in Tripoli.
All observer groups generally note the following:
1. The conduct of the elections were generally free and transparent.
2. Both the election commission and security forces acted professionally and contributed to the peaceful efficient atmosphere noted almost everywhere.
3. There were a few serious but isolated cases of violence and intimidation. One person was shot, and a helicopter crashed killing one person – a final determination as to the cause has yet to be released.
4. Voters came out in significant numbers and were, in most cases, jubilant and peaceful
Aside from the notable, but isolated violence and attempts to intimidate voters with violence, observers noted several technical violations. Most were violations common to first time or poorly trained staff. There were a few observed cases of vote buying and campaigning in or near polling centers. These were not systemic and did not constitute a significant problem for the overall integrity of the electoral process.
The Rased coalition focused on conflict or potential conflict areas, specifically reporting from Sirte, Bani Walid, Kufra and Ghdames. Shahed also had observers in most of these places, but it was agreed that Rased would report specifically on conflict areas.
In all reports from these areas, it appeared that voting was steady and there was no significant violence reported. Two polling centers did not open in Kufra until yesterday, and observers noted that a planned boycott by the Tebu impacted the overall turnout of this minority community. It was reported that some Tebu were allowed to vote without inking their fingers for fear of reprisal within their community.
The successful conduct of Libya’s election owed much to careful planning, preparation and partnership between local actors and democracy assistance groups, including the Washington-based National Democratic Institute:
All candidates were required by the High National Election Commission (HNEC) to sign a code of conduct when filing nomination papers. But candidates and political parties had no say in the creation of the document and thought that a party-generated code could address points not included in the HNEC version, such as mutual respect among competitors, responsible leadership and public safety.
To meet this need, NDI and the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (USMIL) convened a group of political parties from across the political spectrum in Tripoli on June 17, one day before the start of the official election campaign period. The parties collaborated on a voluntary code of conduct that they have agreed to abide by.
NDI presented participants with codes of conduct from elsewhere in the region, as well as international standards for campaign codes of conduct. The representatives from 40 parties, ranging from smaller, regional-based parties to larger, national organizations, ultimately agreed on 14 principles, including:
· Abiding by all laws, regulations and procedures governing the electoral process;
· Contesting the elections with campaigns that focus on the promotion of party programs and refrain from discrediting other political entities;
· Disavowal of any use of violence or threat;
· Encouraging an environment conducive to the participation of women, and all elements of Libyan society, in every aspect of election campaigns and the voting process;
· Not bribing voters, buying votes or blocking citizen access to ballot boxes;
· Full cooperation with electoral authorities regarding any investigations into alleged fraud, irregularities or errors in the electoral process; and,
· Accepting the final results of the elections as announced by the HNEC.
Several of those in attendance planned to publicize the voluntary code on their parties’ websites, and on their Facebook pages. Parties unable to attend the conference will also have the opportunity to sign on to the code.
At the conclusion of the conference, 12 of the participating parties went one step further by drafting and endorsing a joint statement condemning the recent escalation in violence ahead of the campaign period, which had already claimed the life of one candidate. The statement called for all violence to cease immediately and for Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) to undertake necessary actions to ensure a safe election period.
NDI is one of the four core institutes of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.