Libya-in-Waiting

Libyan national electoral commission workers watch as the election results come out

Libyan national electoral commission workers watch as the election results come out

Election Day in Tripoli was exhilarating. Voters of all ages began to line up at polling stations throughout Libya’s capital city from 7 a.m and continued throughout the day. Almost half of the voters were women, and most of the voters I spoke to expressed their support for the National Forces Alliance, whose most prominent member is Mr. Mahmoud Jibril, citing his experience, education and leadership qualities.

“Mahmoud Jibril is the future for us,” Mrs. Aziza Salama, an English teacher with three children, told me as she waited in line to cast her ballot. “He doesn’t want anything more than to take Libya to the best place.”

Notably, but perhaps not surprisingly, voting patterns appear to be determined by family rather than individual preferences. Like many others I interviewed, Fatma Mohammad Said, well over 60 years old, told me that her entire family was voting for Mahmoud Jibril’s coalition.

Wrapped in the new Libyan flag that she has carried with her since the start of the revolution against Muammar Al-Qadhafi, Mrs. Said said, her eyes swelling with tears, “We are all in paradise now.”

Martyrs’ Square in downtown Tripoli became the de facto meeting place for everyone wishing to celebrate what has become the revolution’s latest achievement. It was a big party. The streets leading to the center were packed with hundreds of cars blasting their horns. Young men and women hung out of the windows, waving flags, shouting Allahu Akbar, and raising their fingers in the sign for Victory. Under a shower of fireworks, I entered the square to find thousands more, singing, dancing, clapping and hugging.

In a press conference to announce the preliminary findings of the EU’s Election Assessment Team, German MP for the European Parliament and Head of the mission, Mr. Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, said: “This election provides a very good foundation to build a house of democracy in Libya that can be strong and beautiful.”

The Libyan people are off to a magnanimous start. Though violent incidents in some areas of the country tempered the good news, many Libyans turned out in spite of it.

Those who did not had their reasons. Among them were members of the armed forces, who were legally prohibited from voting; former Qadhafi devotees, like one taxi driver, who claimed that a full two-thirds of Libyans still supported the now deceased tyrant; and the so-called federalists, who may not necessarily want to see the division of their country, but are more likely adopting the language of federalism to impel more action on their behalf.

“What they are suffering from is the exclusion that they have experienced for so many years,” Mr. Jibril said in a recent press conference at the National Forces Alliance HQ. “I think there is a sincere wish on their part and on our part to reach a compromise.”

Just days before the final results are to be announced, political leaders and party representatives are bracing themselves for a National Forces Alliance victory.

Not so for Mr. Mohammad Sowan, General Secretary of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Development party, who told me on Monday: “I think that at the end of the day, once the official results are out, I believe that our party and other Islamic-leaning parties will end up with the largest number of seats,” he said in response to the assertion of many journalists that election results favoring more liberal independent candidates and political entities will buck the trend of rising Islamist power in the post-revolutionary Middle East. “Libya, will not be an exception to the rule.”

Yet, election results do show that the large and diverse coalition of the National Forces Alliance is in the lead, leaving Sowan’s comments on shaky ground.

The question, regardless of who dominates parliament, is how to move forward in a way that unifies rather than divides Libya.


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