The United Nations was assisting Libya as it held, on 7 July, its first free election in 47 years. The nationwide balloting to elect a Libyan National Congress was a key step in the country’s transition from dictatorship to democracy after a popular revolution swept away last year the brutal dictatorship of Moammar Gadhafi.
The task of preparing for Libya’s historic elections has been monumental given the absence of any electoral machinery or experience, and the short period since the end of the fighting.
"No one should underestimate what has been achieved,” said Ian Martin, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya and Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya, which is assisting the country through its post-war transition.
“Libyans have the opportunity to choose their own representatives freely in a credible election, fulfilling one of their revolution’s main goals,” SRSG Martin said prior to the elections. “This has been made possible thanks to the resolve of the interim authorities, the relentless efforts of electoral officials, and above all the determination of the people”
Smooth Registration of Voters and Candidates
Registration of voters and candidates in May went smoothly, with more than 2.8 million of an estimated 3.4 million voters answering the call to register. More than 3,700 candidates have registered, running either as individuals or on lists of the numerous newly created political entities. Over 600 of the candidates were women, marking an unprecedented level of women’s participation. Ballot papers were being printed and training conducted across the country for Libyan officials who will manage the balloting on Election Day.
Throughout this process, the United Nations has been supporting the authorities and all concerned by providing technical advice. The UN’s engagement is guided by the principle of national ownership: Libyans carried out their revolution and Libyans should now determine their own future.
Technical Expertise on Elections
Through a team of electoral advisors, the United Nations has worked closely with Libya’s independent High National Election Commission, offering technical expertise earned from post-conflict election experiences around the world, to ensure a credible electoral process. Meanwhile, UNSMIL’s police advisors embedded within the Ministry of the Interior have assisted the Libyans with a security plan for the elections.
What makes this election so significant is that it sets the stage for the next steps on the road to democracy. A National Congress imbued with popular legitimacy will appoint a government. A commission will draft a new constitution that fulfills the people’s aspirations.
The people will have their say in a referendum on the new constitution, probably in early 2013, to be followed by another election for a legislative body, which will be Libya’s first full parliament in half a century.
Support from Arms Proliferation to Human Rights
The UN mission is providing support in other key areas of Libya’s transition.
UNSMIL will continue, for example, to provide expert advice to the police and the military on how to build a sustainable security structure while integrating former revolutionaries. The UN also will continue assisting authorities in other priority areas identified by the Libyans. These include human rights protection, transitional justice and the rule of law; the safe storage and control of the large amounts of weapons in the country; and countering arms proliferation and controlling Libya’s borders. The UN will also continue encouraging the promotion of participation of Libyan women in all national effort.
Libya’s recovery has been marred by numerous challenges, particularly local conflicts and security incidents in a nation still awash in weapons. Ethnic and regional differences left unaddressed and often exacerbated by the previous regime have resurfaced. In some areas tensions have erupted into fighting.
That Libyans are going forward, despite these difficulties, to determine the future of their country through an inclusive electoral process is in itself an encouraging sign that they are committed to seeing democracy prevail.
The United Nations will remain engaged after the National Congress elections to help Libyans build on the progress made and fulfill their aspiration for a democratic, stable and prosperous State.