For a country that has not witnessed national elections since 2014, municipal elections are an important way for many Libyans to make their voices heard within their communities and participate as active citizens. Participation in these elections also has the potential to improve the daily lives of Libyans - when provided with adequate support, municipal councils can address local issues, provide basic services, and implement municipal legislation. Throughout this electoral process, nonpartisan citizen observers play a crucial role by raising public confidence, exposing irregularities, and offering recommendations for improving electoral integrity. NDI partners have been observing municipal elections since 2018 as part of the Institute's ongoing commitment to strengthening elections in Libya.
Recently, partner groups have deployed observers for eight of the nine municipal elections held in 2021, including Hai al-Andalus, Tajoura and Tripoli Center, the three largest municipalities in the Tripoli area. Over the course of four months, NDI’s partners, Libya Network for Democracy and Development (LNDD), Aladasa, the Tripoli Women’s Union (TWU), and H2O, deployed 336 observers, including 127 women and 227 youth, to 203 polling centers. These election monitors acted as a visible sign to voters of proper election oversight. “As an observer, I see myself as the eye of the people - overseeing the electoral process and elevating awareness of its results,” said Ahilla, a 20 year old observer with the Aladasa organization.
Once polling centers closed for these elections in the Tripoli region, NDI’s observation partners compiled their observations and analysis into reports, which were sent to the Central Committee of Municipal Council Elections (CCMCE) and shared with the groups’ almost 200,000 followers on social media. Additionally, LNDD and H2O presented their findings to the media at a joint press conference in Tripoli. Speaking on the results, Sanad, an observer with H2O, explained, “Some violations were monitored and recorded at the polling station which I observed. But by and large, the electoral process went well, and I’m very proud of my participation.”
Recommendations developed from observation findings have successfully led to improvements in municipal election management. These recommendations, which NDI partners share and discuss with the CCMCE at regular roundtable meetings, cover a variety of issues such as raising voter awareness, streamlining candidate and voter registration processes, enforcing regulations on election day, and improving COVID-19 precautionary measures at polling stations. During the recent Tripoli-region elections, LNDD and H20 identified the rapid turnaround between the opening of the campaign period and election days as an obstacle to adequate voter engagement and education, and jointly pushed for an extension of the campaign period beyond two weeks. As a result, the CCMCE adjusted the election day in Souq Al-Joumma to give candidates vital time needed to introduce and develop their campaign platforms, allowing voters to make more informed decisions. By translating election-day observation into actionable guidance, NDI’s observation partners are thus demonstrating the impact that election monitoring has on their communities.
Observers have persevered in providing this service to Libyan municipalities, despite numerous challenges. Elections in Libya face disruption by militias and non-state actors, or by violence stemming from the country’s civil war, such as when a Libyan National Army (LNA) offensive against Tripoli jeopardized many western municipal elections in 2019. “The security conditions in the country are a big challenge for elections,” Ahilla admitted. “But I still hope that over time our work will help Libyans to develop a better understanding of democracy.” Many elections were also indefinitely postponed in 2020 at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and observation groups have since adapted their strategies to adhere to public safety guidelines. Additionally, decisions by the election management body can present logistical challenges, such as when the CCMCE announces elections without proper advance warning, necessitating that observers be flexible in planning and deploying at short notice.
While these events have sometimes led to delayed elections, observer organizations have not scaled back their efforts, but rather have actively improved the quality and reach of their reporting through NDI’s assistance. Since 2019, NDI’s partners have observed 28 elections and deployed over 700 observers to over 500 polling centers, demonstrating their commitment to the democratic process. Koni, an Aladasa observer, noted, “I hope that future elections will have increased awareness and participation, and also that more youth will participate in our observations, because our work ensures voter transparency.”
As Libya heads toward planned national elections in December 2021, sustaining and building upon this momentum throughout the remainder of the year is important, and NDI is working closely with its election partners to train and prepare them for the task. Observation groups are planning to scale up their operations to engage in long-term observation of the pre-and post-election environment and to refine their monitoring of the participation of women and the role of youth and the media. They will also continue their projects observing municipal elections, which are expected to continue throughout 2021, including municipal elections in eastern Libya. Through the continuation and expansion of their work, election observation groups and NDI will raise voter awareness and push for electoral transparency at a time of great national significance.
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: Daniel Cooley is a Program Assistant with the MENA team at NDI.
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.