Libya’s first post-Gaddafi parliamentary elections took place July 7th 2012, reviving a national spirit that brought fireworks to the sky and people to the streets in celebration.
Sixty-two percent of Libyans turned out for the elections, with over 1.7 million ballots cast and 3,700 candidates, including 624 women, running for seats.
It was the first general election held in Libya since 1952, and, despite fears to the contrary, was widely commended by monitors for running fairly and peacefully, with few instances of interference or violence.
The official results, released nearly ten days following the close of polls, were another cause for celebration.
Unlike Egypt and Tunisia, which saw Islamist parties take the majority of votes, Libya announced a new parliament largely composed of an alliance of liberal parties.
“It is clear that Libya has embarked on the road to an inclusive democracy as measured by the fact that women have been elected to the new assembly,” said Hibaaq Osman, founder and CEO of Karama. “Congratulations goes to the efforts of the courageous and dignified women of Libya. We know that this did not happen by coincidence. It was these women who relentlessly worked to make this happen.”
“It feels wonderful, especially now that we’ve changed the whole equation of the Arab Spring.” commented Zahra’ Langhi of the Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace.
Led by former interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, the National Forces Alliance, which is made up of at least 58 parties, won 39 out of the 80 seats reserved for political parties.
Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction party won 17 seats, just over 21 percent of the party list 80 seats and 8.5 percent of the total assembly. The National Assembly will be made up of 200 people in total and will include 120 independents, the allegiances of whom are largely unknown.
But the greatest victory was for inclusion and representation of women. Forty percent of the voters were women and women candidates won 33 seats—32 through party lists and 1 independent. Women won approximately 16.5 percent of seats, closer to the percentages of Western nations like France and the United States.
A total of 624 women registered as candidates—540 through political parties and 84 as independents. A number of women candidates planning to run as independents reportedly crossed over to run for the 80 seats allocated to political parties in order to benefit from built-in party support and resources, as well as a higher chance of winning due to the “zipper list,” which required parties to ensure that women were included on the lists in alternating slots both horizontally and vertically.
Karama worked with partners in Libya to launch a coalition of women, men and youth leaders from all walks of life in October 2011 in Cairo. This coalition, the Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace (LWPP), has grown over the past few months to hold trainings and build campaigns for women’s inclusion in the new assembly.
Several women, who are affiliated to the LWPP, have run as candidates in the elections. Two of the co-founders, Asma Seriaba and Amina al-Meghairbi, won seats in the elections.
Ms. Seriaba who ran as a candidate in the political list of the National Coalition in Surman shared, “In all cases whether running only or actually winning a seat, women are victorious for they played a distinctive role in the revolution and they will continue to do so in the stage of building the Libyan constitutional state, which will uphold the rights and freedom of its citizens. So we hope to become the voice of Libyan women’s ambitions and aspirations.”
Ms. al-Meghairbi, from the National Coalition in Benghazi shared similar positivity when learning of the election tallies. “The results of the elections, [with] women winning 16.5 percent of the seats of the National Congress reinforce the role women have played after the 17th February Revolution…We also hope in future elections women would achieve better results and that is possible after a study of the election law and assuring what is positive about it. The zipper list, the vertical and the horizontal alternation, has definitely contributed in increasing women’s representation. Yet the negative aspect of the election law is the nontransferable vote system which has affected the result of women,” she said, citing the fact that several competent women ran as independents but only one woman was elected.
In late 2011 and early 2012, the LWPP successfully lobbied for the above-mentioned alternative electoral zipper list, which would guarantee women half of the 80 seats set aside for political parties. However, the new electoral law also included districting specifications that split up the 80 seats to ensure “proportional representation” such that the 40 seats was no longer a guarantee.
Prior to the elections, the LWPP launched a campaign to lobby for fair distribution of electoral districts calling for the 80 seats designated to party lists to be selected in a single district national election. The final election law, however, designated a proportional districting law where seats were assigned to each district based on geography and eligible votes. The division of constituencies into an odd number reduced opportunity for women’s inclusion.
Still, the zipper list was a significant victory for women and in a way, more meaningful than a quota. “It sends a stronger message than only appointing women and giving them side seats. Women are engaged in all the processes: not only seats in the national congress but also in the political parties. This way it establishes that women from the very beginning—at the seed of political life—established with political parties – and has as a condition that women should be partnering with men,” remarked Zahra’ Langhi of the LWPP.
“If it wasn’t for LWPP’s partnership with the legal team that drafted the alternative law , we wouldn’t have the presence of women, yet there is still work to be done, said Langhi. “For the first time, women were there as founders and partners of the political parties and now they need to continue this role, leading the charge in government with regard to the constitution and national reconciliation. “We want to empower women with the right tools to become agents of peace and national reconciliation in order to become equal partners in rebuilding Libya.”