Libya is preparing to hold national elections on December 24, 2021, offering an opportunity to continue the country’s democratic transition after years of violence and political stalemate. In the Tripoli region, Libyans recently practiced their civic engagement during a series of municipal elections held from January to April 2021. At the request of Libya’s Central Commission of Municipal Council Elections (CCMCE), the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and its local partner, the Debate Club of the University of Tripoli (DCUT), organized 10 candidate debates for five municipal elections, with the wider ambition of facilitating a culture of debates in the months preceding the national elections. This partnership to support candidate debates is an integral part of NDI’s and DCUT’s goal of collaborating on projects to fulfill elections and legislative strengthening activities in Libya.
As preparation for this process, NDI and DCUT conducted pre-debate orientation and training sessions for candidates and moderators, introducing them to the types of anticipated questions, as well as their roles and responsibilities. NDI and DCUT also brought in an electoral debate expert to lead the sessions, covering opening and closing statements, research and how to craft talking points.
These candidate debates were the first of their kind in Libya, providing an unprecedented opportunity for constituents to gain a clearer understanding of the candidates’ platforms before casting their votes. Through the debates, citizens gained access to candidates' platforms and views so they could make informed decisions about who would be representing them. Citizens submitted questions via social media in advance to be posed to the candidates during the debates, focusing on topics relevant to local audiences, such as plans to combat unemployment and the participation of youth and women in the municipalities. These questions provided insight for the candidates into the most pressing issues for their potential constituents, pushing the candidates to further define their campaign platforms and acknowledge that they would be held accountable by an informed and engaged populace. One candidate from Souq Juma noted this value, saying “My debate was a new opportunity to connect with voters. Even if I don’t win the election, I’ve greatly benefited from the experience.”
List representatives competed in one debate, while candidates running for the quota seats (reserved for women and persons with disabilities) participated in another. Candidates discussed an array of issues, including healthcare, small business support, provision of services, communication between the council and its constituency, local education and the environment. The debates were filmed and disseminated via social media platforms and broadcast on local television networks, together capturing over 800,000 views - a testament to the strength of the debates’ ability to garner public interest. The success of the debates positively impacted candidates and voters alike by providing a platform for voter engagement with those running for office. Additionally, the debates showcased the value of NDI’s technical expertise by increasing DCUT’s ability to independently conduct similar events going forward. As the country moves closer to scheduled national elections, pre-election debates will continue to be an important space for citizens to make informed choices and for candidates to determine specific policy issues, and the practice will hopefully become the new norm in a changing Libyan political landscape.
NDI's engagement in Libya is implemented with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS).
Author: Micaela Miller is a Project Assistant on the MENA team
NDI is a non-profit, non-partisan, non-governmental organization that works in partnership around the world to strengthen and safeguard democratic institutions, processes, norms and values to secure a better quality of life for all. NDI envisions a world where democracy and freedom prevail, with dignity for all.