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Libyan Election Posters

Though it’s been over two months since I returned form a work trip to Libya, I thought I would finally get around to posting some election-related photos I took. Luckily for me, people seem to leave their campaign posters up well after the election, which gives me a random, non representative sample of the type of campaigning done before the GNC election in July. If anybody can add any context to these pictures, or wants to make any corrections, please do so in the comments section. They would be much appreciated.

Most of these pictures were taking in the Hay Andalus district of Tripoli.  An upper class neighborhood, Hay Andalus, like most constituencies, had an individual and proportional tier. The proportional tier was given three seats, though shared with several other areas. Hay Andalus also had it’s own Single Non Transferable Vote (SNTV) tier, of three seats. SNTV systems are notorious for creating weak parties, as well as creating the highest incentive for candidates to cultivate a personal vote. This is in part because the margin of victory needed for a seat is usually very small. In this district, there were 136 candidates competing for three seats. The three top candidates ended up receiving 12,099, 8851, and 6,807 votes respectively.

This pillar was covered with mostly individual candidates, though the purple poster in the middle is for the Salafi’s Al Watan Party. Despite high expectations, Al-Watan won no seats nationally, and came in fifth place in this district (only 3,992 votes, while as a comparison, the National Forces Alliance took just over 30,000).

It wasn’t uncommon to see candidate posters with faces scrapped off, like those below. I’m guessing this was either vandalism from individual Salafis (note above, that the main Salafi party still used a female face in one of it’s own ads), or just someone expressing dissatisfaction with politicians in general. Or I’m reading too much into this and it was simply some punk kids.

The next two photos are ads for the Union For Homeland Party (الاتحاد من اجل الوطن).  The Union won two seats overall and came in seventh place in Hay Andalus, with 2,703 votes. The slogan used in these posters says “New Libya, new faces” which matches the imagery used in the posters. The Union’s leader, Abdul Rahman Swehli from Misrata, was a dissident during Qaddafi’s rule, and advocates and entirely new system that is purged of officials from the old regime. This is relevant as many current figures, even liberal ones such as Mohamed Jibril and Ali Zeidan, have served in Qaddafi’s government at some point in their careers (even though they became opponents).

A billboard for the Justice and Construction Party (حزب العدالة والبناء), which is the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing in Libya. The party finished with the second most party list seats, though significantly less than the secular National Forces Alliance.  Justice and Construction (abbreviated by their Arabic acronym, AB) used the horse imagery in most advertisements I saw.

This was a small sticker for the National Forces Alliance (تحالف القوى الوطنية), of Mohamed Jibril, which won the most party list seats out of any organization.  I actually saw more billboards and signs for them around Martyrs’ Square and on a few highways, but never in a situation where I could take a photo. 

I saw several posters, such as this one for Wafa Al-Sharif, that displayed affiliation with the National Party for Development and Welfare, led by now-Prime Minster Ali Zeidan. (Zedian was elected as an independent in Jufra). This appears to be a party-list poster as there is no mention of candidate number and I couldn’t find Al-Sharif’s name in the district results. It is interesting to see the party emphasizing candidates on their closed party list ads, whereas the Justice and Construction Party took the opposite approach. The party managed to get one party list seat nationally while finishing in 17th place where this picture was taken. The poster was on a main highway, however, so it was likely to have targeted voters throughout Tripoli.

Sign for a candidate running in the SNTV tier.

Here are two signs for the National Movement for Justice and Development. Another party-list ad, these two signs indicate that the party chose to have a women lead their list in this district. There were only three open seats in this district and parties were forced to stagger their lists by gender, as well as placing women at the top of half of their lists nationally.

People in Misrata were unfortunately better at taking their campaign posters down after the election, but I did manage to get this of a candidate, who finished in 63rd out of 117 candidates. Misrata also used SNTV for it’s candidate-based tier, though with a district magnitude of four.

Libya’s Electoral System

Against all odds, Libya is still planning on holding an election on July 7. This is a remarkable timetable for a country - especially one with no past electoral experience – to hold an election in. There are a lot of problems in the country, for sure, but Libyans should take pride in what they’ve done to get here.

Libyans will be electing a 200-member General People’s Congress, a body responsible for appointing a 60-member body to draft the Constitution. Following the example of some of their regional neighbors, Libya has opted for one of the most confusing systems around. The system basically incorporates every major system into one. Forty members will be elected by plurality vote in single-member constituencies (SMD), 80 members will be elected by plurality vote in multi-member constituencies (commonly known as Single, Non-Transferable Vote or SNTV) and 80 members will be elected through a closed-list proportional representation (CLPR) system.

Depending on where one lives, they will vote in either one or two of these tiers. Most voters will cast ballots for two tiers (either SMD and SNTV or SMD and PR) while the others will vote in only a SMD, SNTV, or CLPR tier. Fifty of the 73 constituencies will be parallel, while 19 will have only a SMD or SNTV district and four will only have a PR district. (Figure one shows the breakdown by region of PR versus majoritarian districts.) Most districts obviously have more majoritarian seats than PR ones, although we can see that the cap between them is not consistent. Gheryen, for example, has no PR seats at all.

Figure One

I’ve never heard of such a breakdown and I imagine that such differences makes voter education and election administration a nightmare. The High National Election Commission (HNEC) – the body responsible for running the election - will have to print out many different forms of ballots and ensures the right ones get to the right areas. Moreover, some voters will have to be taught how PR works, while others will have to be told about SNTV or SMD, and others both. To make things easier for voters, SMD and SNTV ballots will be orange and proportional ballots will be blue. I’m unsure of the thought process behind so many different types of voting systems. I’m guessing it was less a grand plan than a set of many compromises. (If anybody has any insight into the process I would love to hear it.)

The electoral system makes it difficult to predict optimal candidate or party strategies. The 80 SNTV seats, in particular, will make any form of coordination very difficult. SNTV makes effective coordination for political parties nearly impossible, as organizations would have to essentially run their own candidates against each other in every district. It’s probably no surprise then, that it’s used in the countries that its in (Afghanistan and to some extend, Jordan). SNTV will be bad for party formation in Libya, but will greatly benefit local tribal elites. On top of that, candidates running in any of the 120 majoritarian seats will not be allowed to run with a party label.

Gender Quota

Over 80 women have registered as individual candidates, which is only a small percent of the 2,501 independent candidates registered overall. The best opportunity for women being elected, however, comes in the 80 seats elected by closed-list PR. Article 15 of the election law mandates that candidates should alternate genders on the lists and that half of all a party’s list must have a female at the top. The vertical aspect of this rule is commonly known as a zipper quota. The zipper, closed-list format is considered to be the most advantageous to female candidates (assuming the population is unlikely to vote for women otherwise, of course) but it it can’t always guarantee high female representation by itself. In Tunisia, for example, extreme party fragmentation, combined with medium district magnitude (average DM of 8) meant that many parties won only one seat per district. This had the effect of only placing the top candidate on most lists (usually a man) into parliament. In Libya, that average district magnitude will be only four (although Benghazi is an outlier with a DM of 11), which severely reduces the proportionality of the eighty seats and makes it less likely that many parties will win more than one or two seats per district. This is why, the “horizontal quota” of requiring parties to place women at the top of half of their lists, is such an important aspect.

This gender quota is pretty strong, and Libya should be commended for it. Of course there is the issue that parties could place women at the top of lists in districts where they know they will fare poorly. I doubt this will be much of an issue, however, as I could not imagine any party would have a realistic idea of their strength in each area. Districts are newly created, party ID is extremely low, and I’m guessing parties have little resources to conduct meaningful surveys. Some party elites may think they know their area, but there were plenty of NDP elites in Egypt who thought they “knew” their district, only to get beaten in the first fair election.

Additionally, SNTV, in theory, could be beneficial to women. I doubt this will happen, but I believe that SNTV can reduce the collective action problem that female voters looking to elect a female candidate would have. For example, in a single-member district, I may want to vote for a woman, but I know that they don’t have a shot, so will vote for a strong male candidate that I like the most. In a multi-member district, however, a female doesn’t need to be anywhere near the strongest. In fact, if a strong female candidate can muster even around 10% of the vote, they could gain a seat. One only has to look at election returns in Afghanistan to see how fractured SNTV districts can be. Usually, voter knowledge of candidates is low (the lack of party ID will only exacerbate this) resulting in many candidates getting a very small percentage of the vote. In Afghanistan, results can be so fractured that it is not uncommon for a candidate to win a seat with less than five percent of the vote! Of course we don’t know how this will play out in Libya, but it still holds that a credible female candidate attempting to build support would need to convince far less people to support her. The average district magnitude for SNTV districts is 2.58, which will mitigate this advantage (most districts only have two seats) but there are a few with more seats. Benghazi’s SNTV distrait has nine seats, and many others have four, such as Misurata, Zawia, Friday Market district in Tripoli, Misurata, Sabha and Ajdabiya.

Democracy in Libya

While watching Al Jazeera today, I became annoyed that so many experts and analysts kept referring to this mythical Libyan election that will somehow take place in 8-9 months.  I don’t expect an election administration expert on every TV panel but I wish somebody asked  if this was a realistic timetable (spoiler: it’s not).  Libya isn’t the first post-conflict country to deal with the difficult decision of an election timetable.  The optimal time to hold a first election is different from country to country, and the tradeoffs are important.  The earlier the election, the harder it is to run a good one.  The longer you wait, the less legitimacy the interim government will have.  Libya will probably have the benefit of massive amounts of foreign funding and expertise, but that still doesn’t guarantee a well run election.  One only has to look at Kosovo to see that unlimited resources, although helpful, are far from sufficient for avoiding major pitfalls in an election.

Another troubling thing I’ve heard on more than one occasion is the notion that institution building in Libya will be like working on a “blank slate.”  I’ve also heard this used to describe South Sudan and in both cases, they aren’t completely true.  When it comes to governance, there is not such thing as a black slate.  Governing has been taking place in some way.  There may be a lack of formal democratic institutions, but that doesn’t mean people weren’t doing things before we got there.  It’s true that in terms of elections and governing institutions, Libya is much more of a blank state than most countries,  but that doesn’t mean informal methods of governance, even at the local level, won’t influence the institutions that are eventually developed.

In which I sound like a Neocon


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