The July 2012 Libyan Election and the Origin of Post-Qadhafi Appeasement
Haley Cook and I trace the origins of the collapse of the transitional and constitutional processes in Libya from a novel angle in our long awaited MIDDLE EAST JOURNAL article. We began writing this article in the Summer of 2012 and first submitted it in early 2013. After rounds and rounds of peer review it is finally ready. We actually believe it is more topical than ever as it elucidates how the free and fair elections for the GNC led to the collapse of the Libya state. We conclude that the post-Qadhafi holders of legitimacy and governmentality (the centre of power) chose to appease the militias and various divergent political interests (e.g. the federalists, Islamists, and political isolationists) and that the process of electoral competition and coalition building encouraged this behaviour. This process then eviscerated Libya’s already weak institutions down to the bare bones. We also survey the early post-Uprisings scholarship and discern three schools of thought: the appeasers, temporizers, and over-centralizers.
To access the article via the Middle East Journal click here.
ABSTRACT: The July 2012 parliamentary election in Libya was free and fair. Nonetheless, the election exacerbated various local, tribal, and religious cleavages. The National Transitional Council’s policy of appeasement successfully averted widespread armed conflict, yet it inadvertently derailed Libya’s future constitutional process. This article surveys the main scholarly paradigms for analyzing both Libya after the fall of Mu‘ammar al-Qadhafi and the role of elections in societies in transition. It concludes that the outcome of the 2012 Libyan election calls into question the ability of post-conflict elections to function as tools of democratization or as mechanisms to unify social fissures, especially in societies lacking in formal institutions.
PARADIGM: This article adheres to the broad paradigm that asserted that the Libyan government unnecessarily dissipated its authority by repeatedly “accommodating” the demands of armed protesters. This scholarly current tended to see the NTC/GNC as “appeasers” or “accommodators” who failed to confront their opponents — choosing to back away from controversial policies when threatened with force.20 This pattern started with the NTC’s action in the lead up to the July election to “placate” federalist demands, and was followed by pressure from Islamist militias and their supporters in the GNC’s Martyrs Bloc to pass the political isolation law, which was in turn followed by the GNC’s upholding of the NTC’s decisions on the direct election of the constitutional committee. This perspective implicitly maintained that bold NTC leadership and propaganda could have capitalized on the honeymoon period following Qadhafi’s ouster, meaningfully turning the tide against the disruptive periphery and towards the center…..
CONCLUSIONS: Libya’s current armed struggle, duplication of governance functions, and political sphere dominated by “peripheral” elements creates a situation where Libya could be indefinitely stranded between competing regional and ideological factions and faced with total loss of sovereignty and the nonexistence of a state structure.
The 2012 election was conducted with minimal violence and high voter turnout. It also culminated in the full transfer of powers from the outgoing, unelected National Transitional Council (NTC) to the incoming, elected General National Congress (GNC). Despite being the first truly free and fair election in Libyan history, it failed to live up to its potential to set a positive precedent because the NTC’s weakness reduced the election’s potential effectiveness by rewarding dissident groups who challenged the political process via violence rather than channeling their political contestation towards the ballot box. The NTC’s amendment to the election law on July 5, 2012, and the GNC’s decision on April 9, 2013, to uphold it have simultaneously weakened Libyan institutions and undermined their legitimacy.
Placed in broader context, Libya’s post-2011 political developments provide a fascinating case study, demonstrating that even the freest and fairest elections held without robust institutions do not necessarily facilitate post-conflict social cohesion and security. This finding challenges the oft-cited hypothesis in the political science literature — usually associated with Staffan Lindberg — that elections in and of themselves are causal drivers of democratization.