By George Grant and Rida Agil.
Tripoli, 3 July:
With anticipation growing ahead of Saturday’s nationwide elections, the new American ambassador to Libya, . . .[restrict]Chris Stevens, has said he believes Libya’s democratic transition still “seems to be on track”.
Violent protests by pro-federalist demonstrators in Benghazi and Tobruk have raised concerns amongst many Libyans that Saturday’s historic vote, about which most people remain euphoric, could be marred.
There are now serious rumours of an election boycott taking place in some eastern areas, although it is still not believed this will be a widespread phenomenon.
In the south, meanwhile, Tebu tribesmen have threatened to boycott the elections unless national army forces are withdrawn from Kufra, where they say 56 of their people have been killed in recent clashes.
“This is a truly historic process on which Libya is now embarking”, Stevens said, “and I am hopeful that the process seems to be on track. We want this political transition to succeed, which includes holding elections in a peaceful environment, with the results being supported”.
Stevens, who served as the US representative to the NTC in Benghazi during last year’s revolution, said he recognised that eastern Libya had been “neglected and marginalised under Qaddafi”, and that he understood why they “want their seat at the table and their voices heard”.
The diplomat declined to make any firm predictions about whether the predicted boycott would be widespread or not. “I’ve seen some reports saying that there will be a boycott and others saying that there won’t be. Our hope is that those who want to are given the opportunity to vote”.
Federalists argue that the distribution of seats in the National Conference is unjust, with 100 seats being reserved for western Libya, as against 60 for the east and 40 for the south. The division is drawn up along demographic lines, with the NTC arguing that the distribution is therefore equitable.
The ambassador also expressed his concern that recent violence in the south might hinder the elections. “I hope people there will be able to vote openly and safely. Ultimately it is up to the HNEC to make the call on whether it’s safe to vote”.
Many non-Libyan news sources, particularly outside of the Arab world, continue to divide the political parties standing in the elections along ‘Secularist’ and ‘Islamist’ lines, a division Stevens described as overly simplistic. “What I’ve learned looking at the electoral landscape is that it’s much more complicated than that”.
He also urged caution over placing too much emphasis on the big political parties, predicting that they would not hold the balance of power in the National Conference. “There are over 140 political parties standing in these elections, many of them locally grown. On sheer balance of probabilities it seems to me that these local parties will win many, if not the majority of seats”.
The ambassador concluded by saying that his biggest concern for Libya was that the National Conference demonstrated the capacity to move the democratic transition forwards once it is formed. “Agreement on the seating distribution within the Conference is important, but it is also vital that it appoints a new government that can make the tough decisions required and ensure the transition continues”.