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Libya's New Government Will Face Old Challenges

3 MINS READJun 24, 2014 | 19:35 GMT
Libya's New Government Will Face Old Challenges
A man passes parliamentary campaign posters in Tripoli, Libya, on June 22.
(MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images)
Summary

Libyans will head to the polls June 25 to elect an interim political body to replace the embattled and largely ineffective General National Congress. The new legislature, the House of Representatives, will oversee the stalled constitutional drafting process and eventually hold elections for a permanent national government as defined by the future constitution.

The General National Congress was elected in 2012 in what Western observers deemed a free and fair election with high voter turnout. Subsequent elections have not fared as well; boycotts by ethnic minorities, low turnout and localized violence marred the Feb. 20 constituent assembly polls. The upcoming elections are an attempt to reset the current political impasses in Tripoli, but they also represent one of the few opportunities left for Libya to cobble together a national political order before the country fractures more completely along regional and tribal lines.

The June 25 elections will take place at a time when deep divisions exist within the nation's fledgling military and political elite. Tribal and regional competitions often supersede the directives of Tripoli's weak national authority.

Libya

Libya

Retired Gen. Khalifa Hifter's offensive against the Islamists in the General National Congress and their alleged militant allies in eastern Libya has exacerbated these tensions. Since May 16, Hifter has tried unsuccessfully to oust militant groups such as Ansar al-Sharia from the eastern city of Benghazi, but his limited tribal support in western Libya quickly declined as the central government showed it could effectively defend Tripoli with the help of pro-government militias. Hifter's forces are still involved in sporadic clashes and conduct limited airstrikes in eastern Libya, though Hifter claims he agreed to a cease-fire for the election date after negotiations with Tripoli and Ansar al-Sharia. The militant group denies that talks took place.

Though Hifter is not currently a direct threat to Tripoli and has yet to demonstrate the support necessary to form a national government or lead a coup, he represents a broad continuum of escalating violence that has eroded the government's capability to carry out basic security operations on its own. Security, along with voter apathy, will be the primary limiting factor in ensuring the elections' successful outcome. Following public pressure against the Muslim Brotherhood's perceived dominance over the General National Congress and dissatisfaction with political parties in general, candidates for the House of Representatives will be running as individuals. However, Libya's High National Elections Commission has decided against disqualifying candidates with previous political party affiliation, leaving the future 200-member body likely to form along the same regional and ideological fault lines that have hamstrung the work of the General National Congress in the past.

The House of Representatives will face two main challenges as soon as members are sworn in: reviving the country's declining oil industry and co-opting Hifter's anti-terrorism agenda to bring former government forces back under Tripoli's authority. Both of these must take place after the selection of a prime minister and approval of a Cabinet — something that has proved difficult in Libya's political environment. Libya's current cash reserves (estimated at around $80 billion, down from about $90 billion a year ago), built primarily on exports during former leader Moammar Gadhafi's last years in power, will be crucial to underwriting the House of Representatives' attempts to garner support from militias and tribes. But international observers — particularly U.S. and EU officials who have made recent visits to Tripoli to discuss upcoming elections with interim Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni — are hoping a new governmental body with a renewed electoral mandate can restart negotiations with Libya's fractured base of local and tribal authorities.

The House of Representatives will face regional and international pressure to adopt a stronger stance against militants who are taking advantage of Libya's security vacuum. Moreover, the new government in Tripoli will have to prove itself to be more responsive and effective than the fractious General National Congress, lest opponents — including Hifter — use the failures of a new political body to give their own aspirations fresh momentum.

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