The government that will result from Libya’s first free election in some 50 years is likely to remain unclear for some days. The party which comes out ahead will either need to form a coalition with another party or secure support among the block of independent MPs provided for under the interim constitution.
However, one result is already very clear. Despite all the dire predictions in the international media, Libya has voted and voted successfully in a way that demonstrates a telling unity of purpose among the 1.7 million people who participated.
The challenges that this reborn country now faces are immense. There are still heavily-armed militias that have refused to surrender their weapons, protesting in part that they do not trust the self-appointed National Transitional Council and the interim government it set up, to protect the revolution. The militia leaders have argued that the armed forces and police, into which they were told that they should merge their fighters, were not up to the job of combating the feared Gaddafi loyalist counter-revolution.
Any return of the old regime was aways a chimera. Though they may still have control of billions of dollars of Libyan assets plundered during 43 years of dictatorship, exiled loyalists are now isolated. Former supporters within the country, though nervous of being fingered by militiamen and the Integrity Commission which has been barring major Gaddafi-era figures from public office, are settling down to the new political realities. In both the dead dictator’s hometown, Sirte and Abu Selim in Tripoli, where loyalists held out longest, it was notable that the voting turnout was above the 60 percent national average.
The militias will shortly face a government with the democratic mandate to order them to disband, and in the case of the Zintan militia, to surrender Saif Gaddafi, the dictator’s second son, whom they captured and wish to see tried, not in Tripoli, where a brand-new courtroom awaits, but in Zintan itself.
Then there are the Cyrenaican federalists, who sought to disrupt the poll in the east of the country, by attacking some polling stations and burning ballot papers. Despite their concerns that Benghazi, the birthplace of the revolution, might once gain be sidelined in the new Libya, the majority in Cyrenaica has been disgusted at federalist violence and ignored calls to boycott the vote. Attacks in recent months by Muslim extremists have also brought widespread revulsion and condemnation.
Libya’s first democratic government faces a mountain of challenges, over and above learning how to work together in coalition. Yet despite the regular doom-laden reports of the international media, the country is far from dysfunctional and chaotic. When last August the NTC announced elections would be held in eight months, the overseas view was that this would be impossible. The pundits were proven wrong. Albeit two weeks later than planned, the vote has gone ahead successfully. All Libyans should justly be proud of this achievement.