Issue No.1204, 3 July, 2014      02-07-2014 04:35PM ET

Libyan poll sees Islamists losing

Legislative elections held last week look set, judging by preliminary results, to bring a strong majority of non-Islamist candidates to power, writes Kamel Abdallah

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Elections in Libya: A Libyan woman while casting her ballot at a polling centre during voting in the parliamentary elections in Tripoli last week
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Salwa Bugaighis Libya’s most prominent female activist who was assassinated in Benghazi (Photos; AP)
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It appears that non-Islamist political forces — such as the National Forces Alliance and the federalist movement — scored significant advances in the general elections that were held on 25 June in Libya while Islamists suffered a sharp setback. Nevertheless, judging by the initial indicators, they will still be assured a place in the forthcoming parliament due to the influence of the tribal factor. Political parties were not allowed to participate in these elections so as to minimise partisan tensions.

The Supreme Electoral Commission (SEC) announced that it would take two weeks to tally the ballots that were cast last week. Speaking at a press conference, SEC director Emad Al-Sayeh said that he expects that the official results would be announced in the middle of this month. Earlier this week, the SEC published partial returns from some cities on its website. However, Al-Sayeh stressed that more time would be needed to furnish accurate results. The turnout was relatively poor. Less than half the electorate went to the polls.

On Sunday, the SEC announced a new set of partial results. These covered polling districts in such cities as Shahhat, Al-Bayda, Al-Marj, Qasr Libya, Benghazi, Toukra, Awjila, Akshara, Tazirbu, Ghat, Wadi Utba, Traghan, Umm Al-Aranib, Murzuk, Zliten, Kabaw, Tawergha, Al-Aziziya, Sabratha, Al-Ujeilat, Sabha, Wadi Al-Shati and Ubari.

Al-Sayeh reminded candidates that they had to submit their reports on their financing and their campaign expenditures within 15 days of the elections. He cautioned that those who failed to meet this obligation would be liable to prosecution under the electoral law.

On the question of completing the balloting process in the districts of Al-Jumayl, Kufra and Derna, the SEC director explained that the factors that caused the balloting process to be suspended still existed and that the commission could not organise new elections within a week. He added that the SEC had submitted a request to the General National Congress (GNC) to review the matter, which might be referred to the new parliament after it convenes. Al-Sayeh concluded his press conference with an appeal to civil society organisations and tribal notables to support the SEC in its efforts to complete the electoral process for the parliamentary seats that would still have to be filled.

According to the results that have so far appeared on the SEC website, a broad coalition of secularist forces, which includes liberals, the National Forces Alliance, the federalist movement and a number of national figures, achieved an overwhelming victory in the parliamentary elections. The victory was even stronger in eastern Libya, in the province of Cyrenaica, where a rather loose and amorphous grouping of national figures and pro-federalists swept the polls. Initial returns for Benghazi indicate that the secularist and federalist forces may win more than 70 per cent of the votes. Candidates representing these trends also won in Ajdabiya, Qaminis, Suluq, Al-Abyar, Al-Marj, Al-Bayda, Shahhat, Al-Qubah and Tobruk.

The initial returns for southern and western Libya indicate that important Islamist leaders have incurred major losses in their chief strongholds. The exception was Misrata, the city most strongly allied with the Islamists in Libya in the post-revolutionary period.

In the capital, the preliminary returns split the seats of the suburban Suq Al-Jumaa district between the Islamists and non-Islamists. In the central Tripoli and the Andalus districts, secularists scored massive victories. Only a handful of seats went to the Islamists or tribes affiliated with them.

Contrary to expectations, non-Islamists achieved stunning successes in the northwest cities of Zawiya and Gharyan.

Non-Islamists made similar inroads in the south, in Sabha and Wadi Al-Shati in particular. Women candidates affiliated with secularist groups and movements won a large number of the seats reserved for women.

The preliminary results, so far, indicate that a large bloc of non-Islamists may well achieve a two-third majority in the forthcoming parliament.

Meanwhile, Omar Humeidan, official spokesman for the GNC said that the body is monitoring the rest of the parliamentary election process and that it is preparing for a session to follow through on the work of the committees charged with preparing the handover reports to the new legislative assembly.

Speaking at a press conference Saturday, Humeidan stressed that the GNC was still the highest authority in the country and that it would continue to conduct its activities in this capacity until it officially hands over authority to the new legislature.

The elections took place against the fraught backdrop of Libya’s security situation. Last week, a key witness in the case of the assassination of the lawyer and rights activist Salwa Bugaighis died as the result of torture inflicted on him by security personnel in Foweihat Police Station in Benghazi where he had been detained for questioning following the incident. The witness, who had served as a guard in Bugaighis’s home, was an Egyptian national. He had been shot in the leg by the gunmen who stormed Bugaighis’s home on Wednesday, 25 June, elections day.

News of the assassination of Bugaighis, who had served as the deputy-chairperson of the National Dialogue Preparatory Commission, stirred regional and international condemnation. Her husband, Essam Al-Gharyani, remains missing. Bugaighis’s funeral, which took place on Friday, was attended by a large throng of fellow activists and sympathisers.

Al-Ahram Weekly has not yet been able to obtain a copy of the coroner’s report on the Egyptian citizen who had served as a guard at Bugaighis’s villa. Although sources at the Benghazi Medical Centre had promised to send a copy as soon as the report was issued, they now believe that the report will be covered up and closed, as occurred in the cases of the assassinations of Muftah Abu Zeid and Abdel-Salam Al-Mismari, especially given the security situation in eastern Libya.

 In another indication of the deteriorating state of security in that part of the country, the Joint Security Operations Room (JSOR) in Benghazi sent a message, a copy of which has been obtained by the Weekly, to Al-Jalaa Hospital notifying its director to immediately evacuate the hospital of all staff and patients so that no harm would come to them in the event that JSOR forces were compelled to raid the hospital. Earlier, JSOR had charged that an illegal armed group had seized control of the hospital, exploiting the incident that had taken place in Benghazi Port on 21 June. The hospital, one of the largest in the city, has been under severe strains as the result of the security deterioration, and suffers a shortage in medical facilities.

In response to the JSOR notification, the Shura Council of the Revolutionaries of Libya issued a counter statement, of which the Weekly obtained a copy, asserting that its forces were continuing to guard the hospital and protect its staff and patients. The latter organisation’s security team apparently consists of volunteers from the Benghazi neighbourhoods of Al-Salmani and Raas Obeida.

The Shura Council of Revolutionaries of Libya, in its statement, said that the hospital was working normally and meeting the needs of the city and that it was therefore surprised by JSOR’s notification to the director of the hospital to evacuate it.

Although Benghazi was free of aerial bombardments during the first days of Ramadan, Ali Al-Sinai, the imam of Hisabat Mosque, was gunned down in front of his home in that city Sunday.

On the previous day, on the eve of Ramadan, fighter planes under the command of retired General Khalifa Haftar bombed, for the first time, the Lathama district of Benghazi. No casualties were reported. The spokesman for Haftar’s forces, Mohamed Al-Hijazi, reported that, “military aircraft fired 250 and 500kg bombs with the aim of destroying arms depots belonging to Libyan Shield forces.”

Military commanders who support the GNC denied and condemned “the use of such missiles against residential neighbourhoods,” forcing residents to flee such targeted areas of Benghazi as Al-Hawari, Al-Qawarsha, Sidi Faraj and Lathama.

Meanwhile, Benghazi Port remains tense. Workers in the chief port went on strike, reportedly after having seen a security vehicle belonging to the Libya Shield parked in front of the port. The port had been the scene of the clashes that erupted between the military police, the Saeqa Regiment and JSOR forces, all of which support Haftar, and militias that support the GNC following the seizure and burning of 10 tons of hashish late last week.

Back in Tripoli, in another development related to the political violence plaguing Libya, the Tunisian diplomat Mohamed Balsheikh and the legal advisor in the Tunisian embassy in Tripoli have been released by their kidnappers. No details have been made available on the process that led to their release. However, the Tunisian ambassador in Tripoli stated that the two men were able to leave Libya and return to Tunisia after their release.

The two men had been detained for more than three months. It is generally assumed that the persons who kidnapped them were affiliated with an extremist group that was using these hostages to secure the release of Libyans held in Tunisia on terrorist charges.

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