Libya's first national democratic elections are scheduled to take place in June. But the ruling transitional council is hardly functional and the country faces a number of major problems.
Since the death of Moammar Gadhafi in October 2011, Libya faces the challenge of building up a new nation. In June, 200 members of a general assembly are to be elected. They will replace the currently ruling National Transitional Council (NTC). The elected assembly will then name an interim government and a committee to draw up a draft constitution.
In May 2013 at the earliest, regular elections will take place which will result in a new government and a new parliament based on the constitution. But there is hardly the foundation in Libya to set up a country with a constitution, institutions and a functioning economic infrastructure.
"Gadhafi eliminated all institutions in his 'Socialist People's' republic which are essential for a modern democratic state," said Günter Meyer, head of the Center for Research on the Arab World at the University of Mainz. The former Libyan leader wanted to thereby neutralize all centers of power which posed a risk for him and his family, he added.
Transitional council in crisis
In order for nation-building to be successful, the NTC first has to overcome its current deep crisis. Clans, militia and entire regions are virtually independent from the council and follow their own agenda.
This problem is aggravated further by the fact that the NTC doesn't appear to always know what it wants. Sometimes it declares a vote of no confidence against the provisional government under Prime Minister Abdurrahim el-Keib, and then it overturns a planned law that envisaged banning tribal and religious parties. The NTC's performance is particularly sobering when it comes to the inquiry of violence and atrocities committed during the revolution.
"The National Transitional Council has not even set the investigation of the crimes committed during and after the civil war into motion at all," said Libya expert Wolfram Lacher from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin. As long as no independent judicial body throws light on these war crimes, the risk of armed conflict and people taking the law into their own hands increases, he said.
Just recently, the NTC passed a law that granted anti-Gadhafi fighters exemption from punishment and promised detained Gadhafi supporters the prospect of release. This was not a good indication for the process of interim justice, which urgently needed to take place, Lacher said.
It is particularly difficult for Libya to build up a functioning political life after over 40 years, as Gadhafi forbid political organizations. The NTC abolished the ban for parties and organizations in January of this year. To date, 36 parties have registered for the elections in June, including particularly many Islamic and religious parties. Aside from the Muslim Brotherhood, though, they are poorly organized because they were only able to form in the past few months, Lacher said. So far, radical Islamist forces appear not to have secured any major political weight.
The political balance of power between individual cities, clans, regions and a central government has to be balanced out anew. Many local centers of power emerged during the revolution in which cities and clans - in part backed by local militia - competed for political and economic dominance.
Local councils which have formed in the cities and regions enjoy a varying degree of authority, depending on the location. The situation is made even more unclear by the fact that various revolutionary forces and militia are in part represented in these local councils. But they also act in part outside of the councils, and time and again engage in armed power struggles among themselves.
The revolutionary brigades and other activists from the revolution against Gadhafi accuse the NTC of not being transparent enough and not disclosing the use of Libya's state funds - in particular the billions of dollars of income from the country's oil exports. According to Lacher, these factors have led the NTC and its government into a legitimacy crisis. The NTC therefore often gave in to the pressure by the revolutionary brigades.
The transitional council has not yet been able to place the numerous armed groups and clan militia under the central control of a security committee in Tripoli. But in order to ensure the security of the country and the population, a new security and military apparatus has to be built up.
The militia has to either be incorporated into it or be demobilized. Otherwise, it will continue to result in armed conflicts between individual groups. Though the process of incorporation and demobilization had already begun, it is only progressing slowly, Lacher said. The militia wants to wait and see how the country's political realignment will look after the elections - and whether it can profit by it.
Expertise from the West?
Registration of the estimated 3.4 million eligible voters has begun, but is only progressing sluggishly. It is disputed whether the West should help Libya with its first democratic elections. On the one hand, the West should avoid any interference in domestic matters, said Meyer.
"On the other hand, it should pay attention to those areas where Libya needs support, such as expertise for building up democratic structures, advice in the security sector or reconstructing infrastructure," Meyer said.
The experts agree though that ensuring fair and free elections is primarily the job of the NTC and the Libyan people.
Author: Diana Hodali / sac
Editor: Rob Mudge