Libyan elections are another step on historic road
Libyans in large numbers exercised their new right on Saturday. Joyful scenes were reported across the country as people who had just voted showed off their ink-stained fingers.
Results, and the percentage turnout, will be known in a few days. What we know already is that discontent in the eastern Barqa region, home to the second-largest city of Benghazi and cradle of the revolt against Muammar Qaddafi, translated into less trouble than many had feared. Violence did prevent or disrupt voting in some places, but 94 per cent of polling stations operated smoothly, the election commission said.
"I'm so excited. I woke up at 6am," a voter named Mabroka Amar, 69, told The Guardian. "A new country has been born. God willing, I will be alive to vote again and again." Adam Thabet, a dentist, told Associated Press: "I have a strange but beautiful feeling today."
This novel optimism ranks Libya with Egypt and Tunisia, places that have fairly elected new governments as a result of the Arab uprisings.
In each country, the process has been different, and each will have to navigate more twists and turns: Libya for example was electing a 200-member interim body to choose a cabinet and supervise the writing of a new constitution. The first regular legislative elections are to follow next year.
In each country, too, the process has in varying ways and degrees been imperfect, to say the least. No wonder: replacing dictators and building institutions to share power is not easy. The somewhat ragged nature of the process is a testament to its importance. And while not everyone welcomes the results of each national election, the process itself is ultimately what matters.
In other words the really important election, in each country, is always the next one, the "again and again" Mrs Amar invoked. For it is the discipline of facing the voters the next time that keeps elected politicians focused on the will of the people. Opposition parties free to speak up, and media free to investigate abuses and offer suggestions, are the other vital elements of a true marketplace in political ideas.
To be sure, it does not always go smoothly. Iraqis cheerfully waved their ink-stained fingers in 2005, and voted again in 2010, but few would call Iraq a healthy democracy today.
Some party, in office or out, can always lose patience with electoral democracy and get out the guns. But rule by force leads, as we have seen, straight to the evils the Arab spring has rejected. This new way offers a better future.
Updated: July 9, 2012 04:00 AM