Libyans go to the polls to elect their president for the first time. On November 22, the deadline for submitting candidatures, the total number of candidates for the country’s first place reached 98 people, in a country of 6.5 million inhabitants and less than 3 million eligible voters.
The field includes figures from all walks of life, including Libya’s best comedian, first and former prime ministers, and past and current speakers of parliament. The son of the late Muammar Gaddafi, Saif Al-Islam, his father’s former secretary, Bashir Saleh, and a minister of the Gaddafi era have all joined the race. General Khalifa Hifter, the dominant force in eastern Libya, also hopes to win the presidency through the ballot box.
But on November 24, the High National Electoral Commission (HNEC) disqualified 25 candidates, reducing the list to 73. Different reasons were enumerated against each rejected candidate, including legal issues and dual nationality of another country, which Libyan law does not allow. any public office holder.
The candidate selection process and background check are carried out by different state departments such as the Attorney General’s Office, Passport Authority, Criminal Investigation Department and Secret Service. For example, Gaddafi and Saleh were disqualified because it turned out that they both had a final court verdict, violating a clause prohibiting any convicted person from standing for election.
The HNEC was left with a new roster of 73 qualified candidates, but the commission says after an appeal process, any successful caller could join the qualified candidates.
Two women stand out from the crowd: Laila bin Khalifa and Honeda Tomeya. Both make history by becoming the only two women candidates for the very first presidential elections since the country’s independence in 1951.
Tomeya introduced herself as a social science researcher. In her statement, she called on “all political actors and presidential candidates” to respect the results of the polls.
Bin Khalifa, the first woman to apply, said: âI dream of changing Libya. She is a well-known activist and has campaigned for more women to enter politics. She has in the past emphasized the idea of ââquotas for women in elections. Bin Khalifa is also the leader of the Libyan National Movement, a small political party. She is originally from Zwara, a small town near the Tunisian borders with an Amazigh majority. The presidential candidacy of a minority woman is also unprecedented.
“Libyan male-dominated society makes it difficult for women to gain access to the highest political levels,” Fatima Adeeb, professor of law at the University of Tripoli, told Al-Monitor.
She also stressed that the law on presidential elections âdoes not provide for any quota for women candidatesâ. The fact that political parties do not participate in elections, she said, means “there is no way to impose a quota” for women.
Saleh Hassan, a retired lawyer from Benghazi, eastern Libya, stressed that “election quotas mean women need men’s support.” He added that “special arrangements for women in elections” mean that women will always need the help of men.
In a patriarchal society like Libya, lone women can only be heard if they have the support of men; a fact recognized by Ben Khalifa.
She appeared in a music video, after signing up for the polls, saying, âI have the support of many men and I can’t do anything without them. In the same clip, she also highlighted her struggle with the current and previous parliaments to include more women in political representation.
Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah has pledged to have at least 30 percent women in his cabinet, but his government has only three female ministers. Bin Khalifa said it was “disappointing”.
The new law on parliamentary elections requires 16 percent of seats to be filled by women. But it does not openly allow political parties to run for elections scheduled after the December 24 presidential elections.
In any case, this new law is “progressive compared to the previous one”, which gave women 10 percent of the seats, said Nuria Hussain, a lawyer from Tripoli. Yet it is below what the current interim government promised in March.
Many Libyan women believe their situation will improve as the country progresses in its democratic transition. Salem Hamza, a government consultant, said electoral laws could be disadvantageous for women now “but remember we are only ten years from this new Libya.”
Before 2011, there were no elections in Libya at all. However, Hamza stressed that “women need to be more involved” in local politics. He believes that women’s success “at the national level begins at the local level”. There are no female members in dozens of local councils in small towns and rural areas. Even the Tripoli city council has no women.
Almost all of the women’s activist organizations in Libya are very new, lacking in resources, experience and appropriate training. Hasna, a teacher in Misrata, who does not want her last name published, told Al-Monitor, “In Misrata there are hardly any women in the public sector, let alone in politics.”
Misrata, Libya’s third largest city, is very conservative, even by Libyan standards, and women’s participation in all public activities is occasional at best. Hasna believes that all governments over the past decade “have done very little for women.”
She points to the current Minister of Justice and asks âwhat has she done for her fellow human beings? Nothing. âHasna also quotes Foreign Minister Najla Al-Mangoush as saying thatâ her own ministry is dominated by men â, but many women in this ministryâ never reach the upper levels â.
In Libya, where religious traditions and conservatism still dominate life, women still have a long way to go to be fully integrated in politics. Another obstacle has been violence directly linked to politics. Many women have paid with their lives to speak out on political issues, which is still fresh in the minds of many women.