By Sami Zaptia.
Tripoli, 10 October:
Now that prime minister-elect Abushagur and both his proposed governments have been totally rejected by Libya’s General . . .[restrict]National Congress (GNC) and the show has moved on to choosing his successor, it is worth attempting to reflect on why and how Abushagur got it so wrong.
Much speculation and debate has taken place ever since Thursday, 4 October, when Mustafa Abushagur, current Prime Minister Al-Kib’s First Deputy, withdrew his first proposal in the face of the total opposition of the GNC. Three days later, that same GNC rejected his second attempt to form a government with equal force.
In the last 6 days I have met and spoken to a number of Deputy Ministers and GNC members and have been intrigued to learn their views on the matter. Often their reasoning has been contradictory and at times illogical, especially in view of the fact that it was they who voted him in only a few weeks ago.
Geographical distribution of ministers
And here is where we have to translate what GNC members say as opposed to what they mean. Nearly every single GNC member says that the government should not be chosen on the basis of a geographical share-out. Oh no, they say, we don’t want those bad old practices of the NTC.
No, they publicly proclaim, picking a minister should be about capability, meritocracy, social standing, support for the Revolution with some ‘geographical balance’. This is all fine off course until they see that the list did not include any ministers from their region, town or city as part of that so-called ‘geographical balance’.
Members of the ex-regime
Regarding members of the former regime, GNC member for Benghazi Salah Jaouda speaking on a live political debate programme on Libya Al-Ahrar TV said of any proposed ministers that ‘even if they have the smell of Qaddafi on them we reject them’.
Capability, meritocracy and experience
The paradox of experience is that anyone who had worked for or with the previous regime is accused of being a supporter of that regime or of having benefited from the regime. With a regime which did not operate a healthy meritocratic-based turnover of personnel in middle and upper management, it by definition means that Libya only has so many people with top management experience from within. If they have experience they are likely to be with the ex-regime, if they are not with the regime they are likely not to have had any top management experience! This left very little in the pot to choose from.
Popular, well known and socially or politically acceptable
Another popular complaint from critics of the two Abushagur lists was that they were not popular, they were not well known or that they were not widely acceptable politically or socially. Again, when so many were cancelled out because of links to the old regime and so many popular figures had entered the GNC, it left very little in the field for Abushagur to choose from.
Current members of al-Kib’s government
The GNC members were also opposed to Abushagur having proposed many members of current prime minister’s al-Kib’s government for office again. Their objections varied from giving someone else a chance to their opposition to Abushagur rewarding them for being part of an ineffective government.
No more diaspora
There is also a tide turning on the mythical capabilities of the Libyan diaspora. Initially, many accepted that because of the suppression of opportunity, the poor education, employment and professional training system under Qaddafi, many Libyan diaspora would have had some valuable experience to offer.
However, after the performance of the Kib government, many Libyans now believe that the diaspora are out of touch with the reality, psychology and psyche of the local Libyan. The joke is that while Abushagur (in one of his previous jobs) may have been able to help NASA send a space craft to the outer edges of our known universe – fathoming the Libyan people has proved beyond him. They are also beginning to feel that it is beyond most the Libyan diaspora.
Mahmoud Shamam, former Information Minister under the Jibril government speaking on a live political discussion programme on his Libya Al-Ahrar TV channel, said that ‘we members of the diaspora should at this time step aside and leave the opportunity for local Libyans’.
‘We should give the opportunity to those who served the Revolution such as the thuwar and those who have lived most of their lives in Libya. They are more accustomed to what is needed now in Libya. The (diaspora) should give consultation, but they should not be in the forefront’.
No more technocrats and bureaucrats
The general consensus also seems to be that Libya is now in desperate need of a wily politician. A politician, that is, who can wheel and deal, and play politics within and without government and the GNC. A politician who can also deal with all the conflicting tribal, regional, racial, social, political, military, financial and religious demands all over Libya.
A politician who has more politically to offer than your average technocrat or bureaucrat who may lack the necessary political acumen to deal with the tough and rough people and issues such as the de-militarization of the militias and Bani Walid etc.
Abushagur claimed that he had received over 500 CVs to process in just a few days. Many felt the leaders Libya needs at this moment don’t write CVs. They felt Abusgagur went about it as if he were appointing company managers or directors – not politicians.
He did not consult us. He consulted too much?
It is ironic that on the one hand Abushagur was deemed to have over consulted and sought too many opinions. He tried to please everyone and in the end pleased no-one and upset everyone.
On the other hand, the leading parties or blocs were upset that although Abushagur received their suggested ministerial nominations, they complain that he did not give them a preview of his finals list prior to announcing them. They wanted to give final approval in return for voting him into his position, and Abushagur refused that mechanism on principle.
Was it Abushagur or the GNC that got it wrong?
With such a dream list of demands, no wonder Abushagur could not please anyone. However, there is one reason most members of the political blocs will not honestly give you as a reason why they ultimately rejected Abushagur’s governments. And that is the fact that he did not choose them or someone from their party or bloc, their region, town or city. That is probably closer to the truth as to why Abushagur was rejected, twice, than any of the other truths the GNC members are freely espousing over our airwaves, newspaper columns and our virtual sites.
Much criticism has been directed at Abushagur – with some justification. But the GNC and GNC head Mohamed Magarief and his 3 member National Front party must also share the blame.
The two main political blocs of Jibril’s National Forces Alliance (NFA) and Sawan’s Justice and Construction (J&C) Parties and the so-called independents are equally guilty in this affair. None of them come out smelling of roses from this affair.
The whole GNC conspired against Abushagur – which is acceptable if it was a matter of principle. However, only a few days earlier they had voted Abushagur in with 96 votes ahead of Jibril (94 votes). How come Abushagur became politically unacceptable with all the faults that they are so keen to publicise now – only days after they had given him a vote of confidence?
Blame the system
There is also one other culpable party in the Abushague fiasco. And it is not a person or political party or bloc. It is the system.
The NTC and the HNEC had chosen an electoral system for Libya’s first democratic elections in decades based on a Transferable Vote PR system. It had set aside 120 seats for ‘independents’ and 80 seats for political entities (parties) in the hope that no one political bloc would dominate Libya’s first elected chamber.
It worked. The NFA despite getting over 900,000 nation-wide votes and having a large margin between them and the second placed J&C party, could not get an overall majority within the GNC.
This has meant that the electoral system chosen by the authorities has led to a chamber with no one bloc holding a majority. For consensus building and to avoid dictatorial rule, this is great news.
For a strong government at a time of potential instability and in a nation of no tradition or history of democracy, coalition-building and political horse-trading – this has proved at least in the first attempt, bad news. In short, the electoral system has had some responsibility in where Libya stands politically today.
Abushagur by not representing any of the large political blocs within the GNC, represented everyone and ultimately no-one. The compromise candidate had no deep support when push came to shove. He was chosen to block Jibril from becoming prime minister, not because he was the most popular choice.
He needed to have lobbied more and better to get his ministerial list pre-approved before presenting it for an official vote. Ultimately, Abushagur chose to put his list up for a vote even though he probably thought it will be shot down. He decided to have a face-off and called the bluff of the GNC. He ultimately failed. And his failure could turn out to be at the expense of the nation’s security and stability. A high price and an experiment that must be avoided in future.
Lessons must be learnt
If there is one thing that Libya must come out with from this whole Abushagur saga it is that some lessons for the future must be learnt. What sort of electoral system we adopt for the future is an important matter that needs careful consideration. Do we prefer strong effective but sometimes maybe slightly dictatorial government, or do we prefer more democratic, coalition, consensus-building but less effective government?
Setting in stone through our constitution and through the rules that the next independent election commission set, will decide what political outcomes we get at the next election. First-past-the-post is generally a winner takes all system that usually leads to strong government. Variations of PR systems generally produce more democratic but weaker governments.
Equally, parties need to also learn how to play the political game without putting the national interest in jeopardy. Choosing only their strict party interest will lose them votes in future elections.
With time Libya’s political establishment will gain experience of working in a democracy. The problem is, they don’t have the luxury of time and must operate under the various pressures and challenges that Libya currently faces. This includes the diminishing patience of a public with unrealistically raised expectations post the February 17 Revolution.
It is a challenge, and not everyone can rise to it. But this is the time for heroes, icons and legends to be formed and seared in Libya’s history. Who, if anybody, will rise to the historical challenge of setting Libya on the right path?