Category Archives: Libya

Libya – The Repercussions of Political Instability

Voices of concern are growing rapidly over Libyan instability. During the past few months, it has become readily apparent that the failure to draft a constitution and hold legislative elections as scheduled, thereby providing the post-Qadhafi political system with a measure of popular legitimacy and political clout, has had serious negative implications not only for Libya, but also much further afield.

The inability to craft and consolidate strong political institutions is arguably the crux of the matter. Several critics[1] contended that it was much too soon for the Libyan electorate to head to the polls in parliamentary elections already in July 2012, that is, barely a year after the fall of the Qadhafi regime, which paved the way for the legalization of political parties for the first time in more than forty years.[2] However, concerned with the institutional vacuum in the country, domestic and international actors alike were keen to see competitive elections take place as soon as possible. The hope was that a popularly elected parliament, a so-called ‘government of national unity’, and a cabinet free from members with ties to the ancien régime would assist in bringing political stability to Libya following the civil war.

Judging on the basis of recent events, it appears the critics were right to warn against hasty voting. While Libya now has an elected parliament, this institution enjoys very little legitimacy, whether amongst the electorate or various rebel groups – democracy is certainly not ‘the only game in town’ and Linz and Stepan (1996) have so famously phrased it. Ever since the elections of July 2012, parliament has been marred by inefficiency. First there was Prime Minister Mustafa Abushagur’s inability to form a government, which led to his dismissal following a vote of no confidence and the appointment of current Prime Minister Ali Zeidan.[3] Lately, the elephant in the room has been the drafting of the new constitution scheduled for 2013 along with a new round of parliamentary elections. With significant segments of society boycotting the committee tasked with drafting the new constitutions, the country’s democratization process has again come to a halt.[4] With each incident like this, the newly forged democratic institutions, including the very feeble political parties and the de facto head of state and president of the General National Congress (Nouri Abusahmain), haemorrhage what little legitimacy they have, a reality which, in turn, contributes further to political instability as other non-democratic actors step in either to fill their shoes or provide an alternative vision of how politics should be conducted, and much of the country remains in a state of lawlessness, effectively being ruled by various militias, including some state-affiliated and Islamist groups.[5]

Particularly the latter have been of concern to the international community. The attack by militant Islamists on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya in late 2012 became a considerable problem for President Obama in the run-up to the American presidential elections that year. Reflecting U.S. concern with the direction in which things are going in Libya, the Defense Department pledged support to the North African states, most notably Libya, in building up and/or strengthening their police and military forces.[6] This move was undoubtedly welcomed not only by Libya, whose prime minister recently called for international support[7], but also by the neighbouring countries as Islamist militants opposing the regimes in Algeria and Tunisia have found harbour on the Libyan side of the border, and with Niger’s president warning only this week that ‘Libya risks becoming like Somalia’.[8]

 

Linz, Juan and Alfred Stepan (1996) Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

 


[5] For a brief overview of the militias, please refer to http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-19744533