Laying the groundwork for democracy: Promoting sustainable elections through inclusive governance in Libya and beyond

By Pam Rosen

July 8, 2024   |   0 comments

To promote democracy worldwide, the United States and global allies must support inclusive governance to create an enabling environment for credible, sustainable elections. 

The international community provides significant funding and technical support for presidential and municipal elections around the globe. But despite these efforts, the alarming trend of democratic backsliding continues to threaten political stability and human rights. The 2023 Global State of Democracy Initiative report from International IDEA shows that more countries globally experienced “net declines in democratic performance than saw advances—for the sixth year in a row,” with no region of the world unaffected.   

Notably, examples of these declines can be found in areas prioritized by the United States under the 2019 Global Fragility Act (GFA), including coastal West Africa, Haiti, and Libya, where, after the overthrow of Moammar Gaddafi, power struggles between seats of government in Tobruk and Tripoli devolved into civil war in 2014. Though the war ended in 2020, continued political power struggles and intermittent violence threaten Libya’s relative stability.   

After seeing international community-backed elections efforts stall in priority areas like Libya, USAID and other international donors are increasingly applying a holistic approach to elections support, emphasizing inclusive governance as a critical component of sustainable elections. 

What is inclusive governance, and how does it create conditions for democratic elections?

In international development, programs that support inclusive governance address issues of equitable service delivery and representation in government and civil society that strengthen foundations for stable democratic institutions. A critical component of this representation is prioritizing the inclusion of women, youth, ethnic and religious minorities, and other marginalized groups.   

If governments and civil society effectively represent and respond to the populations they serve, including marginalized communities, these communities will have increased trust in local and national institutions and the democratic processes they promote, including elections.    

Inclusive governance can itself create the conditions to promote free, fair and sustainable elections, but support for inclusive governance must continue even after the last votes are cast.  

What can inclusive governance programs achieve?

At Creative, we’ve seen the impact of inclusion in governance projects firsthand. In Burkina Faso, our USAID Inclusive Governance for Resilience (IGR) project works to ensure that marginalized populations are included in service delivery and local governance. In particular, IGR ensures that internally displaced persons (IDPs) can access necessary public services. The program helped over 42,000 citizens in IDPs and host communities receive national ID cards to access government services and vote in future elections.  

At the municipality office of Yako, Burkina Faso on November 17, 2022

In Guatemala, our USAID Peacebuilding Project supports the inclusion of indigenous community members in local government institutions. The project facilitates exchanges between indigenous and government authorities to coordinate conflict resolution and prevention practices. The role of indigenous protesters in blocking efforts to undermine Guatemala’s recent presidential election results shows how critical the inclusion of indigenous populations can be to strengthen democratic elections. 

How can inclusive governance set the stage for government legitimacy and democratic elections in Libya?

In Libya, recent inclusive governance programming emphasized government legitimacy and responsiveness, with lessons learned about the importance of inclusive and accountable governance to create the conditions for sustainable elections.  

Creative’s Libyan Engagement and Governance Through Applied Learning – Legislative Enhancement for Governance Support project, funded by the State Department Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, worked with 179 legislatures and staff to strengthen their capacity for public outreach, providing training on how to incorporate public input in the legislative drafting process and design and conduct public outreach sessions.  

Creative used data from our Fragility Resilience Assessment Method study, which indicated that women and youth felt excluded from civic engagement in cities throughout Libya, to inform these trainings and emphasize the importance of inclusion in public outreach efforts. A complementary Creative program, the Libya Electoral Security Planning and Implementation project, supported 12 municipal elections throughout the country, ensuring municipal governments strengthened their capacity to successfully administer elections. 

The USAID-funded Taqarib project also worked to bolster local government and civil society capacity, strengthening municipal government service delivery, public participation, and policy execution and reform. Taqarib conducted surveys in 20 cities to measure the effectiveness of municipal government officials and citizen perceptions of the government’s legitimacy. Notably, these cities include several in the southern region of Fezzan, an area often excluded from national political governance in favor of the political centers of Tripoli and Tobruk. From these surveys, the program found  “gaps” in each city between government effectiveness and legitimacy, attributed to service delivery, social and economic development and others.  

In response, Taqarib conducted training and capacity building to increase governments’ effectiveness, and then re-surveyed citizens to determine if increased government capacity changed citizens’ perceptions of government legitimacy. It did. Even mid-project evaluations showed improvement in both effectiveness and perceived legitimacy in the project’s target cities, strengthening the foundation for increased civic engagement.  

What does this mean for international democracy and elections support in Libya?

For the United States to meet the goals outlined in the GFA and support a stable, sustainable democracy in Libya, they must design and implement support that capitalizes on the relationship between democratic elections and inclusive governance, notably throughout the pre- and post-election cycles. This means prioritizing the inclusion of Fezzan in national governance efforts, including encouraging partnerships with civil society organizations with strong networks in the southern region, building cross-project collaboration requirements into project awards focused on elections and inclusive governance, and implementing electoral support projects with measurable inclusive governance objectives.   

To create the conditions vital for sustainable democracy in Libya, the international community must promote inclusive governance as a necessary precursor and follow-on of elections. 


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