Breaking up is so hard to do

April 26 marks 50 years since King Idris as-Senussi of Libya declared the end of federalism.  Libya's prime minister during the time, Mohieddin Fikini, introduced a constitutional amendment passed by the country's three states (Cyrenaica, and Fezzan, and Tripolitania) to unify the country which would now be made up of ten governorates. (Tripolitania was divided into five governorates, Cyrenaica into three governorates and Fezzan into two.)

When Libya gained independence in 1951 as a federal monarchy, it was led by King Idris as head of state, with succession designated to his heirs. Local autonomy was exercised through provincial governments and legislatures, as granted and protected by the constitution. Benghazi and Tripoli alternately served as the national capital for the country.

History highlights some of the grave challenges Libya's founding fathers had to overcome in the process of establishing the country. Nationalist leaders in Tripolitania pushed for a republic regime, but had to pull back due to fears from regional leaders in Cyrenaica and Fezzan that heavily-populated Tripolitania would dominate them. After years of negotiations and consultations, (facilitated and overseen by the United Nations and the post-World War II colonial powers), a consensus was reached to adopt a federal monarchy. 

The debate over federalism has been revived once again following the February 17 revolution that led to the toppling of Qaddafi and his regime. It is becoming one the main topics that will affect the shape of the political future of the country. This debate rose to the forefront of Libyan politics after the Conference for the People of Cyrenaica, on March 6, 2012, after which an announcement was made declaring autonomy for Cyrenaica and the revival of federalism and the constitution of 1951.

Interestingly, the current debate over federalism in Libya also revolves around the right representation of geographical affiliations and identities in Parliament and a call against continuous marginalisation. Nonetheless, opponents to federalism base their argument on the threat to national unity and fear of partition, as well as unfair representation -- once again -- for the people of Tripolitania. However, the experience of independence could help understand the current developments, forces behind them, and their significance to the political future of post-Qaddafi Libya.

As stipulated in Chapter 7 of the 1951 constitution, the issue of regional and population representation was overcome by adopting a bicameral parliament, which was divided into a Senate and a House of Representatives. Eight senators represent each of the three provinces, while the representatives' allotments are assigned to each province at a ratio of one to every 20,000 residents, with no province to receive fewer than five representatives.

On March 15, 2012, the ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) amended the constitution-making process to allow for greater regional representation. The amendment came after a bold bid by tribal and political leaders to declare autonomy in the oil-rich Cyrenaica, which raised fears of partition. The amendment states that 60 experts (modelled on the 1951 constitution drafting committee) would draft the new constitution.

This will not be the only time Libya's new leaders would need to look back at the history of their founding fathers, especially as they negotiate for mechanisms by which wealth and power will be shared in the new Libya in order to achieve stability. The issue of regional representation (between the three old provinces) and equal representation of the population will be one of the main sticking points as Libya's Constituent Assembly seeks to draft the country's new constitution. Thus, for now, the bicameral parliament arrangement adopted in the 1951 constitution seems to be the best option to overcome this issue.

When tensions were rising high in Cyrenaica over the influence the different regions will have in the new Libya, and with fears of partition becoming real, Libya's new leaders looked back at its contemporary history for ways to defuse these tensions and they succeeded. However, Libyans should not allow history to pull us back more than 60 years in time; we should use history as a tool to safeguard unity and achieve progress by considering the constitutional legacy of 1951 in terms of rights-based principles for the different regions and the consensus that led to Libya's independence in 1951 and subsequent unification.

Mohamed Eljarh is the Libya blogger for Transitions. Read the rest of his posts here.     



Does Henrique Capriles actually have a case to cry fraud?

When the losing candidates in a presidential election cry foul, it is usually an uphill battle to reverse the results. Equally challenging is the task of changing international perceptions about what really happened during the voting or counting processes.

Venezuela plunged into a political crisis triggered by a razor-thin -- and vigorously disputed -- victory at the polls for incumbent President Nicolás Maduro over opposition challenger Henrique Capriles. As the opposition continues demanding that justice be served, it is worth asking: Does Capriles have a case? What is the basis for his claims that the election was a sham and needs to be redone?

After the National Electoral Council (CNE) announced the results on April 14th, giving Maduro a victory by roughly 1 percent, Capriles went on air and refused to concede. He claimed there were numerous "irregularities" at the polls that required a full audit.

Initially, many observers thought that Capriles was claiming there was some sort of numeric fraud, that results from the machines in the voting centers did not match what the CNE was tallying in Caracas (in theory, the two numbers should match, since the results from each center are reported electronically to CNE headquarters). This initial impression is mistaken, Capriles clarified: The CNE's numbers match the votes as registered by the machines. But the way those votes got there in the first place is the crux of the problem.

In order to assess Capriles' claim, one has to understand the voting day procedure in Venezuela. Voters identify themselves at polling centers by showing their government-issued ID card and scanning their fingerprints. The scanner then (supposedly) verifies the identity of the voter, and if it passes, unlocks a machine the voter uses to cast her vote.

Once the vote is cast, the machine produces a paper ballot which the voter inserts into a brown box. The voter finally signs a notebook certifying she has voted.

After the voting center closes, half of the machines are supposed to be randomly audited in the presence of the voting public as well as observers from all campaign camps. The audit consists of counting the paper ballots from the brown boxes and verifying they match with the automatic totals printed by the corresponding machine. In other words, the machine's total votes are compared to the paper "receipts" placed in the brown boxes. Total results for each machine are then transmitted to Caracas.

Capriles conceded that the tallies from the voting machines coincided with the numbers being published by the CNE. In other words, there was no "numeric" fraud, or at least no fraud from the moment the machine sent its results to the moment they were announced to the public. The irregularities, he says, happened before: During the vote itself, and in the days and weeks prior to voting day.

Capriles claims that in hundreds of polling places, the number of votes recorded in the notebooks does not match the number of votes in the machines -- there are more machine tallies than voter signatures. He claims that many observers reporting for the opposition were threatened or simply expelled from the polling sites, and this invalidates both the voting process and the audits done in those centers. He also claims that voting centers remained opened after the legally designated closing time, waiting for government activists to bring in busloads of chavista voters. More seriously, he claims that voter intimidation was rampant. Alarmingly, there are thousands of alleged cases of voters being accompanied to the voting booth by clearly identified government activists, who proceeded to "explain" to voters how to vote for Maduro. Several videos of these practices have gone viral.


The end result, according to Capriles, is good, old-fashioned ballot-stuffing only with a modern facade, since it was done with a highly automated system.

One has to wonder: How could chavistas get away with this? The explanation, according to Capriles, lies in the fingerprint scanning machines. According to him, these machines allow anyone to vote, regardless of whether the fingerprint matches the records. He notes that the software governing the machines was not audited prior to the election -- because the CNE refused to allow such an audit.

When you combine questionable high-tech voting machinery with a government that loosely hands out ID cards, buses people to voting centers using government vehicles, intimidates public workers into supporting the government, and uses an electoral registry that includes tens of thousands of dead voters, it's not too difficult to see how the vote could easily be inflated in favor of the ruling incumbent.

All Capriles wants is a full audit: of machines, ballot boxes, voting notebooks, fingerprint machines, and that the underlying codes for all the procedures be studied and tallied against one another. In centers where there is a serious mismatch, the votes should be voided and, perhaps, repeated.

Initially, the CNE balked at the idea of an audit (there are no automatic recounts in Venezuelan elections), but relented under international pressure. After the initial shock of the election results passed, the CNE has virtually shut down. The only time it discussed the requested audit in public was to say that whatever comes from the audit won't change the results. At this point, it seems as if no audit will take place. Capriles has said that he will boycott any partial audit that does not address the issues he raised. His next step is to go to the courts to demand the elections be partially voided.

The situation in Venezuela remains highly combustible. With an opposition that has a history of alleging fraud against the government, doubts within the movement itself about the strength of the evidence of fraud and its corrosive effect on voter turnout have prevented the claims from going too far. This time, the opposition is solidly behind Capriles and his team.

Maduro may have all of the state's institutions in the palm of his hand, but he also has at least 49 percent of the country convinced that his win needs to be cleared up. As if he didn't have enough to worry about (the economic crisis is growing, and oil prices are falling), a questionable legitimacy can only further hurt his chances of running the country successfully. Only time will tell if things take a turn for the bad, or the worst.

Juan Nagel is the Venezuela blogger for Transitions and author of Blogging the Revolution. Read the rest of his blog posts here.