Election strengthens Libya’s return to international fold
The Prime Minister has welcomed the first election results in Libya as another step towards consolidating the return of the North African state as an “equal and democratic partner” in the international fold.
“For Malta and for me personally, this is an emotional moment in full recognition of the role we played to secure a free and democratic Libya,” the Prime Minister told The Times.
“As neighbours and above all as friends of the Libyan people we will continue to stand side by side during this crucial time with the drafting of a new Libyan Constitution and the rebuilding of the free state of Libya.”
Dr Gonzi was reacting to the first results of Libya’s historic elections, which put the National Forces Alliance party, led by former Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, in the lead with 39 of 80 seats allocated to the parties.
The news was welcomed internationally as Dr Jibril’s party – considered to be secular – overwhelmed the Islamist parties affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, bucking the trend seen in other Arab countries, where Islamist parties did well.
Dr Jibril’s victory is particularly good news for Malta and Dr Gonzi, who forged strong ties with the former Libyan Prime Minister when he served on the National Transitional Council during the war.
“I am especially honoured to congratulate my friend and a good friend of Malta, Dr Mahmoud Jibril, who visited Malta during the worst days of the Libyan crisis and to whom I personally and my government pledged its full support,” Dr Gonzi said.
“At the worst of times and together with his visionary colleagues, Dr Jibril was a beacon of light for his people. His courage has shone through many a time and it is this strength that he will no doubt draw upon to lead his people and new Libya into the next generation.”
However positive, the results are still not conclusive as there remain 120 seats reserved for independent candidates and for which the results are not official yet.
The National Forces Alliance is competing with the brotherhood’s Justice and Construction Party – which came in second with 17 seats – to form a coalition with other parties and independent candidates.
Anthropologist Ranier Fsadni, a specialist on Libya, warned it was still too early to predict the character of the national assembly given the number of independent candidates.
“Most are unknown on a national level. One cannot exclude that some are longstanding allies of one of the Islamist parties, who ran as independents as part of an electoral strategy,” he said.
Nonetheless, a strong Islamist result “would be surprising” to many Libyans, he pointed out.
He also warned against trying to understand the electoral result in terms of a secular versus religious framework, designed for understanding Euro-American politics.
“Jibril has himself rejected the secular, liberal label and he is right to do so: it does not make sense of the cultural politics of his country,” he said.
Libya is unique in several ways, Mr Fsadni emphasised, pointing out it could not have a political system which was “mainstream in any meaningful Euro-American sense. Issues like taxation, productivity, subsidiarity, security, social diversity, etc. just do not arise in the same way”.
Labour’s foreign affairs spokesman George Vella also suggested the situation was too fluid to decipher conclusively.
“On the positive side,” he said, “the clear message by the Libyan people in favour of parties like that of Mahmoud Jibril was a positive stroke” in Libya’s otherwise unsettled post-war landscape.
The reasons for the results will be many but Libyans, who are largely Sunni, generally subscribe to a moderate form of Islam.
There is also the propaganda by the Gaddafi regime over the years against Islamist parties, and which probably outlasted him, Dr Vella argued.
“Even the Mubarak regime in Egypt peddled this sort of propaganda but the Libyan regime seemed to have been more oppressive in this respect.”
For the time being, the election can certainly be said to be a personal victory for the “good friend of Malta”, as the Prime Minister described him.
“Mahmoud Jibril’s victory is a sign of a broad nationwide commitment to national unity and to what Libyans think of as the political, social and cultural ‘middle road’,” Mr Fsadni said.
He is highly respected throughout Libya, and his quiet-but-determined manner has attracted many Libyans who were exhausted by political flamboyance, he pointed out.
Moreover, Dr Jibril’s political inclusivity – he served as an economist in the Gaddafi regime before joining the uprising – also means that in many areas he attracted the vote of erstwhile Gaddafi supporters, who see in him a greater chance of reintegration than they would have under other political parties.
“It is clear that he has a social and economic vision for his country. But we have yet to see if he has the political skills to implement it in a very challenging environment.”