Libya: A Strategy for Stabilization and Governance

by Jeffrey Fischer

March 24, 2020

Regional insecurity and the halting of much-needed municipal elections have required agility and resourcefulness on the part of The Libya Electoral Security Planning and Implementation (LESPI) project, implemented by Creative. Looking at the project as a whole, as well as the country’s constantly shifting context, offers some insight into the challenges inherent in elections-related development work.

An uncertain future for elections

The Libya Electoral Security Planning and Implementation (LESPI) project supports electoral processes in Libya with electoral security capacity building, a key to sustaining public faith in a peaceful, accessible, and legitimate electoral processes and the resulting governance.

Through LESPI, Creative engages with Libya’s formal security and electoral stakeholders, notably the Government of National Accord’s (GNA’s) Ministry of Interior (MOI), Ministry of Defense (MOD), High National Election Commission (HNEC), and the Central Committee for Municipal Council Elections (CCMCE). LESPI aims to provide the training, mentoring, and public outreach that will enable Libyan stakeholders to conduct more peaceful electoral processes. As a result of this project, electoral security stakeholders will be better able to plan for electoral events and to ensure Libyan voters know the roles and responsibilities of these stakeholders.

However, LESPI faces many challenges in achieving its goals.

First, threats to peaceful elections vary among the respective security environments in the west, east and south of this North African nation. As a result, regional disparities produce differing sets of potential victims, perpetrators, and tactics throughout the country.

Second, electoral security assessments and planning require a level of freedom of movement in order to conduct interviews and ascertain a profile of the threats. When violence restricts such movements, it is difficult to obtain the information required for planning counter measures.

Third, the December offensive by strongman Khalifa Haftar and the Libyan National Army (LNA) has both created uncertainty about the stability of the internationally-recognized GNA and introduced more clientelism into the landscape with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates backing Haftar’s insurgency.

And fourth, the national electoral calendar remains uncertain. Given the insecurity and divisions resulting from the continuing conflict, presidential and parliamentary elections, as well as a constitutional referendum, cannot be scheduled.

Looking ahead 

Meanwhile, as insecurity continues, governance must also continue. On the national level, governance is divided between institutions associated with GNA, largely in the west; and a second governance regime associated with the House of Representatives (HOR) in the east. While these divisions persist and require further negotiations to reconcile, it is critical that municipal governance also continue and provide public services on the local level.

In March and April of 2019, the CCMCE oversaw 20 municipal elections. In preparations, LESPI conducted two workshops to build electoral security capacity among CCMCE staff and local authorities. However, persistent conflict and legal obstacles halted plans to hold elections in another 48 municipalities that year.

LESPI has since expanded programming to work with CCMCE leadership on institutionalizing electoral security administration and organizing processes apt to the agency’s needs to conduct municipal elections. Obviously, security conditions will ultimately determine the timing and location of future elections, however, with this specific focus, the CCMCE can achieve a more robust coordination in its electoral security planning and implementation.

Notably, within this strategic scope, elections are not to be conducted as ends in themselves, but rather, as means to generate public services and community stabilization.

A study released last May by the International Republican Institute (IRI) showed that “municipal councils are well-regarded in comparison to national institutions.” The lack of public services was the most significant concerned expressed, according to the IRI’s poll of 15 Libyan municipalities.

“After years of conflict and national division,” said IRI Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa Patricia Karam, Ph.D., in a report from IRI. “Municipal councils are among the few institutions that have some credibility.” This study “underscores the need to further develop” their capacity as “they are the best-positioned to address” respondents’ need for better services, said Karam.

“Demonstrating that local government can be responsive to citizen needs is crucial to the political transition and stabilization of Libya,” emphasized Karam.

Moving forward, the securing of municipal elections fosters a legitimacy for municipal council authorities, advances local accountability to citizens’ needs, and offers community stabilization through localized security measures. By continuing to hold municipal elections across the country, this wave of new governance can be leveraged by the international community as a kind of bottom up strategy for the political reconstruction of Libya.

LESPI is a project funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Assistance Coordination in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and implemented by Creative Associates International’s Electoral Education and Integrity Practice Area.

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