LIBYA’s liberation received vital foreign military and diplomatic backing, including South Africa’s crucial United Nations (UN) Security Council vote in March last year sanctioning a no-fly zone and “the use of all necessary means” to protect Libyan civilians.
Any remaining doubts about the wisdom of the limited intervention to help Libya’s freedom fighters should have been put to rest on July 7 with the dramatic demonstration of national determination to conduct Libya’s first real election in six decades.
With no firsthand experience and what seemed to be an impossibly short timetable, the Libyans showed enormous ingenuity in cobbling together a succession of compromises that produced a complex mixed voting system to elect 120 individuals plus 80 party list candidates to form an interim 200-member General National Congress to oversee the drafting of a new constitution. More than 60% of eligible voters turned out to vote.
Now, the hard political work of building national institutions begins, virtually from scratch, and responsible policy makers in Pretoria should be considering ways South Africa might be helpful should Libya’s transitional authorities ask for advice. A good starting point would be to debrief staff at the open-source nongovernmental Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) in Johannesburg, which had a team of election experts in Tripoli providing technical assistance and staffing the African Union’s election observer mission, comprising observers from 22 African countries and chaired by the prominent Egyptian democrat and recent prime minister, Essam Sharaf.
Under a memorandum of understanding with the African Union, EISA will be providing technical support for nearly 30 African Union election missions this year, as it continues to broaden and deepen its work on sustainable democratic development. With a pan-African staff and a wide international network of contacts, EISA, working in tandem with South African diplomacy, could facilitate a sharing of comparative democratic experiences with Libya’s aspiring democrats, to everyone’s advantage.