“The elections have turned out to be an extraordinary achievement,” said Ian Martin, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Libya, countering the international press accounts at the time that had a more somber assessment on their impact on the future of Libya.
“The fact that Libya was able to hold this election, and hold it so well in such a short time after the end of the conflict is something that I think nobody watching Libya from here in the middle of last year would have dared to predict, ” said Mr. Martin, speaking at an IPI event on July 19, 2012.
Mr Martin said that media and observer reports on the execution of the elections were generally positive. “If you read now, not only the media accounts of the election, but the reports of the different observer groups—principally the African Union, League of Arab States, European Union, Carter Center—that have observed the elections, you will find them extremely positive in the manner in which the elections were carried out,” he said. “They were carried out in a manner that was as inclusive as an election commission could manage in the circumstances, with concern for the opportunity of various groups of internally displaced people.”
The elections, however, did face challenges. “The ballot papers for over 40 polling centers were destroyed in a fire at 3am on the morning of a Thursday before Saturday’s poll.” Additionally, some polling centers were directly attacked in Benghazi.
But these attacks were successfully mitigated. “They were seen off mainly by the evident determination of the majority to cast their votes—unarmed voters linking arms to protect polling stations, even in the face of violence.”
Protests came mostly from those in the east, where the majority of Libya’s oil wealth is located. The east was highly critical of the allocation of seats in the National Congress to the regions of Libya, which awards 100 seats to the west, and only 60 to the east.
The issue, says Mr. Martin, originated in 1950-51: “Libya emerged from three provinces of the former Ottoman Empire: Cyrenaica, Tripolitania, and Fezzan. And right from the very beginning of independent Libya, a key issue was the balance between those regions, the extent to which representation was to be on the basis of population, where the two-thirds majority is in the west, or on the basis of equal representation of those regions.”
According to Mr. Martin, the great challenges that now face Libya are the needs to reintegrate former revolutionary brigades/ militants into the new Libyan society; establish a system of transitional justice; develop proper state security forces; prevent trafficking of people, drugs and weapons along Libya’s borders; and diversify the Libyan economy.
“Nobody should think that one successful election, as we have learnt very well elsewhere, solves the problems of a nation that is starting at a very early stage of both nationbuilding and statebuilding.”
“Nonetheless, this election is a very significant and necessary step in that direction, and one that Libyans at the moment are taking great pride in, and are entitled to take great pride in.”
The event was moderated by IPI’s Managing Director Franҫois Carrel-Billiard.