Libya’s political parties

A brief look at some of the main political forces competing in the July 7 vote for the General National Congress.

Libya elections
A total of 130 political entities have been formed, aimed at offering the Libyan public a wide range of choices [EPA]

During his 42-year rule, Muammar Gaddafi banned direct elections, calling the process of democracy “bourgeois” and in essence “anti-democratic”.

In his infamous Green Book, in which he outlined his political philosophy, he spurned political parties as forms of “dictatorship” and considered anyone claiming the right to assembly a betrayal of his book.

After Gaddafi’s fall, a total of 130 political parties (or “political entities”, for lack of legislation that defines parties) were formed, offering people a wide range of ideologies and political views for the July 7 constituent elections.

Many of the parties are very local in nature, representing only a certain town or even just a neighbourhood.

Only 10 of them have candidates across Libya’s 13 constituencies, and could therefore be seen as national political movements.

Most of them have their fundamentals based on Islamic principles, reflecting Libya’s Islamic character.

Below are six brief profiles of what are believed to be influential political forces in the running for the 80 party list (out of 200 total) seats in the constituent race for the General National Congress.

Justice and Development Party [Hizb al Adala wal Tanmiya] 

Though widely considered to be the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya, the party’s leaders deny this.

The Libyan branch of the Muslim Brotherhood was founded in 1949 but had not been able to operate publicly during Gaddafi’s rule.

Justice and Development was created in March this year and is led by Mohamed Sowan, a former political prisoner under Gaddafi.

The party is believed to be the country’s most organised political force, similar to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, and is expected to do well in the elections.

Justice and Development is campaigning on a wide array of issues, such as the economy, reconciliation between different tribal groups, security and the non-proliferation of arms.

Mohamed Sowan, party leader:

“We look to build a democratic nation, a state of laws, and institutions that is based on a constitution that ensures rights and freedoms, as well as the peaceful transfer of power and the separation of authorities; a state that is built on the Islamic identity of the Libyan people. Our party is open for partnership and I confirm that it is administratively, financially and independent from the Muslim Brotherhood as a group.”

Homeland Party [Hizb al Watan]  

The organisation was co-founded in April 2012 by Abdel Hakim Belhadj, the former commander of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and the head of the Tripoli Brigade.

The party is endorsed by the influential Salafi cleric Ali Sallabi, a long-time foe of Gaddafi, who was detained for eight years in the infamous Abu Salim prison where Belhadj was also held and allegedly tortured.

Al Watan is fielding 57 candidates over 17 lists and calls for “moderate” Islamic democracy with a constitution based on Sharia law.

According to Lamia Fatieh Abu Sidra, number one on the Al Watan list in Benghazi, the party has a “national programme within an Islamic framework” which sits naturally within Libya as an Islamic country.

The Homeland Party campaigns heavily on security issues such as the creation of a strong national army and protection of Libya’s borders. It also supports decentralisation of power but strongly rejects federalism.

Abdel Hakim Belhadj, co-founder:

“The election results will reflect the choice of the people. They will choose the party that represents their goals. Libyans are Muslims and they call for moderate Islam, so none of us poses a threat to anyone inside or outside Libya.”

National Forces Alliance [Tahalof al Qiwa al Wataniya] 

Created in February 2012, the alliance presents itself as a liberal movement and is believed to be the main liberal contender in the elections.

The alliance includes about forty political organisations, hundreds of NGOs and almost 300 independent figures from a wide spectrum of Libyan society.

Headed by Mahmoud Jibril, the former prime minister, the alliance calls for the application of “moderate Islam” and “for the establishment of the foundations of a democratic civil state”.

Jibril himself is not allowed to stand as a candidate because of his brief participation in the interim government.

By heading the alliance he merely establishes himself as a political force, aiming to scoop up a high-placed position in the future government.

Mahmoud Jibril, party leader:

“The motive behind the creation of this alliance is the integrity of Libyan land, the shared interest of all Libyans to form their own constitution … What we hope to do in this alliance is bring in all the active national figures who represent a wide spectrum of political, cultural and social backgrounds in the Libyan community.”

National Centrist Party [Hizb al Tayyar al Watani al Wasati]

Ali Terhouni, the founder of the party, and the former deputy prime minister in charge of oil and finance in Jibril’s interim cabinet, was supposed to join his former boss in the Alliance of National Forces – but split after a conflict about strategy.

Like Jibril, Terhouni is also not allowed to run as a candidate because of his participation in the interim government. He did, however, say his party is willing to work together with the National Forces Alliance in a future coalition.

The National Centrist Party has candidates in more than 10 of Libya’s 13 constituencies making it one of only 10 parties (out of 130) that are nationwide.

Like Jibril’s Alliance, Terhouni’s National Centrist Party campaigns on issues like a strong state and the strict rule of law.

National Front Party [Al Jabha al Wataniya]

The National Front was created in May 2012 out of the ranks of the now-dissolved National Front for the Salvation of Libya, an armed opposition movement against Gaddafi’s rule.

The resistance group was established in 1981 by Muhamad Yousef al-Magariaf, the former Libyan ambassador to India, and a household name in Libya.

In 1984, Magariaf led a group of fighters from the National Front for the Salvation of Libya in a failed coup against Gaddafi by attacking his compound in Tripoli.

After the botched plot, many of the front’s members were arrested and some of its leaders publicly executed.

As the National Front is one of few parties that had already existed – in exile, before the revolution – it is expected to gather enough support during the July 7 vote to have substantial influence in the General National Congress.

The front is striving to be a broad political platform, presenting itself as a liberal party, campaigning on issues such as decentralisation, human rights, economy, national reconciliation and security.

The group says it has offices in major towns and cities throughout Libya but its main support base lies in the east of the country.

Source: Al Jazeera