On Saturday May 19, Benghazi witnessed a historic moment with successful local elections conducted smoothly and peacefully, with local and international observers expressing their complete satisfaction with the manner and atmosphere the elections were conducted in.
The elections in Libya’s second largest city could give early indications to Libyans’ ability to practice democracy in its best form. International and national observers praised the role of the civic society in the city, and there was also great deal of praise to the Supreme Security Committee that secured the city and elections process on the day and long before that.
Most fascinating were the scenes during the results announcement ceremony which highlighted the joy and happiness of the people, and showed that Libyans were hungry for democracy and freedom. Democracy was portrayed in its best form in Benghazi with opponents greeting each other and wishing best of luck to the winners. Such sentiment proves that the candidates had one goal and one ultimate common purpose, and that was to how best serve the city and the citizens of Benghazi.
Another fascinating result from the Benghazi elections was the winning of female candidate Najat El Kikhia with the highest share of votes of all candidates. Najat who is an associate lecturer in statistics at Benghazi University won the trust of the people in her voting district, and such vote proves that Libyans are prepared to give their trust and vote for a female candidate as much as they would for a male candidate, if that candidate showed competence and ability to represent the aspirations and needs of the people.
One of the main reasons behind the successful elections in Benghazi is the leadership of the retired judge Sulieman Zubi and his team, who made sure that the procedures, processes and rules were made as easy and accessible as possible. The planning and preparation process has been very inclusive and consultations with the public and civic society took place throughout the process.
The NTC should not be complacent about the complexities of the elections process and should extract lessons from Zuwara, Musrata and Benghazi’s local elections. Consultations with the public and civic society would guarantee most of the challenges and problems are highlighted and innovative ideas presented to make the election process as simple and flexible as possible and overcome the challenges.
Soon after the announcement of the elections results in Benghazi and the celebrations that followed in the city, a momentum started to gather pace in Tripoli and Zawyia calling for elected local councils for the two cities. Tripoli is the hub for Libya as the largest city with the highest population in Libya, and local council elections in Tripoli would ensure and safeguard the democratic transition for the rest of Libya. The local council elections in Tripoli were planned for May 2012, but never materialized due to lack of transparency in forming the elections commission in Tripoli, and also lack of consultation and public support for the local elections commission in the city.
Local elections should have been conducted throughout Libya, because they would have safeguarded the democratic transition in the country. The NTC should be careful not to undermine the democratic voice of the people in Benghazi, Musrata and Zuwara where representatives have been democratically elected. The current NTC representatives for Benghazi pledged to give up their seats to the newly elected representatives for Benghazi. However, there is opposition within the NTC to the replacement of current representatives with elected ones.
At the moment there is no legal framework that clearly defines the roles responsibilities and duties of the local councils. The NTC is the central government and has control of all the legislative and part of the executive powers in the country. Libya should hope that the general elections will bring a better representative government with better popular mandate to govern and ensure that power is shared between the central and local governments.
Benghazi elected 44 candidates, 11 of which will replace Benghazi’s current representatives within the NTC. Once the NTC is dissolved and replaced by the National Assembly the 11 members would then return to their roles as representatives of the people of Benghazi in the local council.
Many who voted in Benghazi to elect their representatives, have done so for the first time in their lives, and many see these elections as the least they can do to make sure that the sacrifices of martyrs and wounded didn’t go in vain. It will be interesting to analyse how the people in Benghazi voted and on what basis they casted their votes for future elections reference.
Mohamed Eljarh is a UK based Libyan academic researcher and political, social development activist. He is from the city of Tobruk in Eastern Libya. [Email:firstname.lastname@example.org ].
Follow me on Twitter: @Eljarh
Copyright © 2012 Mohamed Eljarh