Browsing articles tagged with " Libya"
Jul 5, 2012
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

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 eight) 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.

Apr 17, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Deep thought of the day

You know how journalists and media outlets are supposed to disclose their interests with stories they cover?  The best example being when we hear at the end of every NBC story: “General Electric, which is under investigation for …… is the parent company of NBC News.”

Should Al Jazeera start ending their segments on Libya with: “The government of Qatar, which is the parent company of Al Jazeera, is currently launching air strikes on Qaddafi’s government”?

Just wondering.

Mar 28, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Obama & Our Conflict in Libya

Image courtesy of Politico.

Tonight President Obama prepares once again to address the nation on the subject of our ongoing conflict in Libya.  After a great deal of bipartisan complaint over US engagement without the consent of Congress, the President’s past news conferences, radio address and tonight’s speech at the National Defense University seems to have been coming for some time now.  Perhaps in part tied to news coverage and the current political argument around the subject, it’s one of the least popular military actions in decades, and likely the President hopes to stem that discontent with tonight’s address.

This evening we can probably expect to hear an explanation of the administration’s reasons for engaging in the conflict, and potential plans for where we go from here.  There’s bound also to be some explanation of the role of the international community in this conflict, and why it was critical that the United States join in a coalition rather than attempt to resolve Libya’s woes on its own.  The question is whether or not any of this new information will change much as far as public opinion and legislative rhetoric?

Perhaps the US engagement in Libya is actually some grand maneuver by the President to finally form a bipartisan consensus, even if that consensus is only over Congressional displeasure with the administration.

Mar 20, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

In which I sound like a Neocon

I think both Jon Chait and Matt Yglesias make characteristically strong arguments in debating the wisdom of getting involved in Libya.   I’m glad I’m not a policymaker right now because I have very mixed emotions about this.  On one hand, I share the worries, well expressed by Jeffrey Goldberg, about what happens after we become committed.

And another question: Is the goal to remove Qaddafi from power? To limit his running room? What if Libyan rebels don’t succeed in removing him from power?  How long will the West be engaged militarily in Libya? What is the strategy here? Is there a strategy? What’s the plan if this settles into a standoff?

Despite almost always being against wars, however, I do feel that some of the anti-interventionists are making a few mistakes. It is true that America is now at war with a third Muslim nation, but I’m not sure what people mean when they say this.  The Muslim World, to the extent that it actually exists, isn’t monolithic. Why should we assume that all majority Muslim nations are alike?  Could anybody really argue that Afghanistan has anything in common with Libya?  Likewise, comparing this to intervention in Iraq is completely wrong.  We invaded Iraq out of the blue, while Saddam’s regime was sitting around doing nothing.  We are attacking Libya during the middle of a civil war where one side is about to be massacred.  A better comparison would be if we invaded Iraq right before Saddam unleashed his chemical attack against the Kurds.  A lot of people wished we had done such a thing, and I think this brings me to my point.   The town of Benghazi is/was about to be massacred.  It probably would not meet any legal definition of genocide, but there was a high probability that the death toll could reach levels that we saw in Srebencia.  In that incident, as in many others, people asked afterwards why the world didn’t do anything to prevent a genocide they knew was about to happen.  Here is a situation where we can do something.  Does that mean we have to? No, but the next time I hear somebody complain about how we let Darfur happen, we should examine the Libya case and realize why we don’t typically get involved. (Sudan by the way, would also have been a “Third Muslim War”).

The fact that we are being hypocrites with regards to Bahrain or Yemen is not a strong argument for not intervening in Libya. (That doesn’t mean there aren’t strong arguments, but this is not one).  Likewise, the fact that the Arab League is now backtracking is not so disconcerting; I sort of have a feeling the regimes that represent that body don’t exactly speak for their people.

Still, I realize this may be completely an emotional reaction. I’ve been watching with such enthusiasm the “Arab Spring” and hoping that one by one, each country would rid itself of their entrenched despots.  Seeing the rebels in Libya get so close, only to watch the horrific turnaround has left me feeling helpless and terrified.  These feelings, by themselves, don’t make it right to intervene, which is why I’m glad I’m just watching.  I don’t care who gets proven right or wrong, or if this will somehow benefit the world-view of realists or neo-conservativeness. I can just read the news and hope for the best.


Mar 20, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Well, that didn’t take long

The Arab league supported implementing a no-fly zone in Libya just up until the moment someone implemented it.

The United States was not going to play a leading role in implementing the no-fly zone just up until the moment someone implemented it.

Why do I feel like I’ve seen this movie before and I know how it’s going to end? Look, I have no problem if outsiders want to intervene in Libya, I just wish that the (US-trained and US-armed) militaries in the region were taking more of a role here. Is that really too much to ask? (Go Qatar! Four whole planes? Wow, thanks for the support!) At a minimum, if the Arab League is not going to help enforce the no fly zone they say they support, is it too much to ask for them to keep there mouths shut when someone takes them up on their offer?

The main reason I am against the US taking an active role in enforcing the no fly zone without active support from Arab governments is because I don’t want the blame to fall on the US government if the whole operation goes pear-shaped. I really don’t want to be having a conversation a year from now about how Gaddafi wasn’t any worse than Dictator X and the only reason the US is in Libya is for the oil.

Founded in 2004, Democracy and Society is a biannual print journal published by the Center for Democracy and Civil Society at Georgetown University. The D&S Blog provides web-only content, including special reports and investigative series, on issues relating to democracy and development.

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