Libya: First post-Revolution national election July 7, 2012

This is only a preliminary election to a “Public National Conference” that will appoint a provisional Prime Minister and Cabinet. It will also appoint a “Constituent Authority,” which in turn will draw up a new constitution. If the constitution is approved in a referendum, there will be a general election six months later.

Which doesn’t mean this election won’t be a hot business – already has been, in terms of setting the rules.

Parties in play include the Democratic Party (liberal, secularist); the Justice and Development Party (Muslim Brotherhood); and the National Front Party (secular, liberal, progressive; linked to the old anti-Gaddafi expatriate organization, the National Front for the Salvation of Libya); plus several smaller parties, including Communists, Social Democrats, and several Islamist parties more radical than the JDP/MB.

Apart from potential Islamist influence, the big issue is whether the new Libya is to be a unitary or a federal state. Libya is made up of three traditional regions – Tripolitania in the northwest (centered on the capital, Tripoli); Cyrenaica in the east (centered on Benghazi, where the anti-Gaddafi Revolution began); and Fezzan in the southwest (centered on nothing in particular, but the biggest town is Sabha). A faction in Cyrenaica wants a loosely federal Libya with regional autonomy. This appears to be in reaction to Gaddafi’s longstanding policy of milking the oil revenues of the east to benefit Tripoli, while neglecting development elsewhere. But even in Cyrenaica, this idea is controversial.

This election will not determine whether Libya will hold together or fly apart, but it might provide the earliest warning signs.

And hotter still.

Jibril’s liberal coalition, the National Forces Alliance, is claiming an early lead.