Anis Mili / Reuters People hold a giant Libyan flag during a march to Martyrs Square in Tripoli, February 25, 2012.

The Case Against Elections in Libya

Why It Is More Likely to Lead to Instability Than Peace

Normally, a call for elections is a sign of a vibrant democracy. In Libya, however, the current rush to hold a vote within a few months from now—a proposal that has been advanced by everyone from United Arab Emirates-backed warlords to the United Nations—will condemn the Libyan people to a future of apartheid and instability. The danger is enshrined in the way Libya holds elections: the current law absurdly gives minority voters more power over the majority, effectively disenfranchising large swaths of the Libyan population and permitting extremist elements and those loyal to the unpopular former regime of Muammar al-Qaddafi to win a disproportionate share of Parliament. 

Despite these serious defects, partisan groups from within and outside of Libya have called for elections as a way of escaping the UN-sponsored dialogue—which has failed to provide security, stability, and a legitimate government—and hope to take advantage of the status quo in order to see their own influence increase. Fayez al-Sarraj, the head of the failing internationally-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), has called for elections to take place in March of next year, while Aref Nayed, an oligarch who is running for president and is heavily backed by the UAE, has called for elections to occur within a few months. Non-Libyans are eager for elections as well. The UN’s Mission in Libya has been in secret talks with major Libyan players, including politicians in the coastal city of Misrata, while newly-elected French President Emmanuel Macron hosted a meeting last month between Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar and Sarraj, issuing a statement that called for “speedy elections.” In a country where factions cannot even agree on how to keep the lights on for their citizens, it seems doubtful that elections will bring peace and stability. 

The reason for this rush to hold elections is simple. The current political elites wish to maintain their advantage over other candidates, which is best done while they are incumbents. The political machines of massively corrupt environment and have been building political partnerships for years. For many of the same reasons that allowed them to gain power in the first place, these incumbents have political momentum that will allow them to succeed. Additionally, they are united in their concern about how a Haftar candidacy might affect the polls. Haftar is currently distracted by military operations and is less able to challenge the elites’ attempts to maintain power.

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