Transitions

Libya's Islamists Go for Broke

On July 21, Libya's Higher National Elections Commission (HNEC) announced the results of the country's second parliamentary elections since the overthrow of the Qaddafi regime three years ago. It amounts to a devastating defeat for the Islamists. The announcement comes at a critical moment. Rival militias are continuing their fight over control of the international airport in Tripoli, which they have turned into a battleground amid the threat of full-scale civil war. The battle for the airport and the issuing of the election results might seem to have little connection at first glance. In fact, they are intimately linked.

In the past two years, Libya's first democratically elected parliament, the General National Congress (GNC), has failed to address the country's economic, political, and security problems. This has prompted growing public animosity toward the GNC. Politicians and political groups neglected to address that deepening disillusionment, instead frittering away public support by focusing on power struggles and the pursuit of narrow-minded political interests. That, in turn, prompted nationwide demonstrations earlier this year, in which citizens demanded the dissolution of the GNC and called for early elections. The Islamist-dominated GNC dismissed these demands and vowed to continue in power until the ratification of a new constitution.

In February, the GNC's failure to respond to these popular movements prompted ex-general Khalifa Haftar to launch an apparent coup against the GNC. Haftar's coup seemed feeble at first, and politicians laughed it off. Yet it offered an early warning sign of what was to come.

Since then, Haftar has managed to capitalize on rising anti-Islamist sentiment by launching a full-scale military campaign against Islamist militias based in the East. He's received strong expressions of popular support: Cities, tribes, and government officials have all voiced their approval. This pushed the GNC, after months of prevarication, to stop messing around and finally announce an election date, which was set for June 25.

The Islamist forces faced a devastating loss at the ballot box, and now face a genuine existential threat. After the vote, they tried their best to delay the announcement of the election results by any means available to them, overwhelming the HNEC with complaints about the electoral process. They also upped the ante militarily by attacking the airport, hoping that the conflict would prevent the new parliament from convening. (The photo above shows the burning remains of an airplane at  Tripoli International Airport.)

Given the strong showing of the anti-Islamist forces in the elections, the Islamists now fear a legislative backlash that could include new anti-terrorism laws, financial and political support for Haftar's military campaign, direct election of a national president, and perhaps even a repeal of the controversial political isolation law (which excluded many Qaddafi-era figures from participating in the new political order). Islamists believe such measures would severely reduce their influence in Libyan politics.

As a result, the Islamists have now opted for more extreme and unorthodox tactics in an attempt to reach some sort of bargain that would guarantee them a role in Libya's future. In their recent discussions with European diplomats, Muslim Brotherhood leaders have said that they will only end their assault on the airport once Haftar ends his military operations. It seems that they are asking the new parliament and the international community to offer them assurances and guarantees through political dialogue and an inclusive political process. In return, however, the majority of Libyans, the new parliament, and the international community will expect the Islamists to accept the will of the Libya people expressed through the ballot box, and to refrain from using unorthodox tactics, such as using armed militias to influence the political process.

With this background in mind, it is essential that the new parliament open its doors for dialogue and embrace the more moderate elements within the Isalmist camp. This could result in a united front against the rise of extremism, a real threat to Libya's democratic transition. Libya's new parliament must avoid the path of exclusionary politics, and must not see politics as a zero-sum game. At this critical time, Libya needs to adopt a teamwork mentality. That is the only way the country can achieve progress.

Mohamed Eljarh is the Libya blogger for Transitions and a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center. Read the rest of his blog posts here.

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Democracy Lab

The Good News from Indonesia's Election Stalemate

We don't know who the winner is yet, but the presidential election in Indonesia, the world's third largest democracy, is already proving to be the most exciting in recent memory: messy, polarized, and full of drama. Both candidates -- Djoko Widodo (known as Jokowi) and Prabowo Subianto -- are claiming victory, each citing unofficial results produced by several private polling agencies. Indonesia's official news agencies have now withdrawn their initial vote projections in order to calm the waters before the official results are released.

The Indonesian Election Commission is expected to complete counting the votes on July 21. According to the English-language Jakarta Post, cases of foul play are spreading "like a rash during the vote tabulation phase." Most of the complaints are coming from Jokowi's supporters.

Whoever wins, his margin of victory will be small. Both candidates have already made it clear that they will not accept defeat on the basis of the vote count determined by the Indonesian Election Commission (KPU). That means that the second-place candidate will probably take matters to the Constitutional Court, which will delay the official announcement of the results by a month, complicate the country's already chaotic post-electoral politics, and test the (so far admirable) discipline of each camp's supporters. On the positive side, an appeal will further institutionalize these procedures and establish a road map for future contingencies. Indonesia has approximately three months to complete the electoral process before a new president takes the charge by mid-October 2014.

Over the past three months, the election has opened up a sharp political divide between the traditional political elite and groups that are demanding greater political change. The former camp has coalesced around Prabowo, an ex-general who played a leading role in Suharto's security apparatus. The latter, consisting mainly of civil society groups and ordinary citizens, have supported Jokowi, who has used his position as mayor of Jakarta to buttress his reputation as a reformer. These two sides of the Indonesian electorate have found themselves at odds over the question of how much democracy is good for Indonesia and how much political space is needed for Indonesian citizens.

The Prabowo-led coalition of forces from the established political elite has been dueling with a Jokowi-led movement that is demanding more democratic reforms, clean government, and greater political accountability. While Jokowi is widely viewed as a champion of good governance, Prabowo has been linked with large-scale human rights violations during the riots of May 1998, when the businesses and homes of Indonesians of ethnic Chinese origin were attacked around the country.

Jokowi, the man of the masses, represents the Indonesian Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the largest political party in the Indonesian parliament. Prabowo, a former military general and son-in-law of Indonesia's former dictator, Suharto, is the leader of the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), the third-largest political party in parliament.

You might think that Jokowi would have the edge simply because of his populist reputation as a man who represents the aspirations of ordinary Indonesians -- and you wouldn't be far off, since he has indeed been the national favorite ever since the campaign first got under way. Yet Prabowo has gone from single-digit approval ratings at the beginning of this year to his current status as a challenger on almost equal terms with the front-runner. Why has his candidacy taken off so dramatically? What is the source of his appeal?

Above all, Prabowo has tapped into growing popular frustration with what many see as Indonesia's chaotic democratic process. His vote-winning strategy has relied on a highly effective media campaign organized around themes of economic nationalism and xenophobia. He has built a strong electoral alliance, mobilized lucrative support from business elites, embraced religious hardliners, and cast himself as a strong leader who will vigorously defend the country's national interests and natural resources. It was the government of Megawati Sukarnoputri, the leader of the PDI-P, that allowed international companies to start mining in protected forests in 2004. Prabowo's economic nationalism has proven so popular during the campaign that Jokowi was forced to include similar planks in his agenda several months ago.

In order to win over the support of Indonesia's majority Muslims, Prabowo has openly embraced the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), a religious militia that has launched several attacks not only on religious minorities but also on non-Sunni Muslims.

Prabowo has also proven to be a skilled coalition-builder, ultimately putting together a broad alliance of seven conservative parties. The coalition's members, who include four Islamist groups as well as Suharto's own Golkar party, potentially command more than two-thirds of total votes as well as a parliamentary majority. The coalition not only drew in supporters and sympathizers but also extended Prabowo's political and social appeal.

Shortly after the election, Prabowo announced plans to transform this electoral alliance into a five-year permanent coalition -- one that will stand for unapologetically majoritarian rule, policies closely tied to moneyed interests, and resistance to further democratic reforms. (In reality, Prabowo's "permanent" coalition may not last very long if he loses; Golkar, in particular, has a long history of opportunism, switching sides whenever it sees fit.)

Prabowo's most effective (and polarizing) campaign tactic, however, has been his smear campaign against Jokowi. In a significant departure from past presidential campaigns in the democratic era, Prabowo launched a frontal attack on his rival, charging him with insufficient Islamic piety, Chinese origins, and communist sympathies. This is, essentially, a reprise of the approach favored by Suharto, who used the same three accusations as the basis for eliminating a large number of Indonesian citizens during his three decades of authoritarian rule. Prabowo's apparent success at reviving the old formula has raised uncomfortable questions about the extent to which the legacy of Suharto-style authoritarianism remains alive and well. Indonesia's dark past, as Australian journalist Hamish Macdonald noted, "is proving uncomfortably persistent."

Yet there is actually quite a lot of good news amid the darkness. The same very ingredients that Prabowo has used to his advantage -- the politics of exclusion, fear, and intimidation -- have mobilized common citizens and civil society against his candidacy. Indonesians began to worry that his victory could mean an end to democracy. On July 4, The Jakarta Post, one of Indonesia's most influential daily papers, broke a 30-year policy of neutrality and officially endorsed Jokowi as a presidential candidate. The paper's editorial staff defended their decision by arguing that the stakes were too high in this election, and that the fate of Jokowi's candidacy would also decide the fate of Indonesian democracy.

Even though this contest has sorely tested Indonesian democracy, it has also demonstrated once again the strength of popular participation and of respect for democratic norms. Turnout in this election has broken all previous records, proving that Indonesians are determined to see that their votes count.

Equally importantly, this election has been almost completely free of violence. Indonesians have adhered to the democratic norm of expressing their political differences by peaceful means. The Indonesian security forces have remained neutral, successfully maintaining law and order throughout the country. Meanwhile, electoral authorities, civil activists, and party volunteers have been keeping a close watch on ballot boxes and vote tabulation processes in order to prevent tampering.

In this respect, Indonesia's presidential election is reinforcing the broader positive trend among Asian democracies. As in many other countries, the burgeoning Indonesian middle class is pushing for corruption-free, reform-oriented, distributive politics. This class, which now includes around 75 million people, and which is growing by some 10 percent per year, is demanding transparency and accountability.

The likelihood of Jokowi's victory (in the absence of mass-scale electoral fraud) implies that the majority of Indonesians reject Prabowo's revival of Suharto-style authoritarianism. For now, the idea of inclusive, progressive, and good governance-driven democracy seems to have trumped the exclusivist, conservative, and elite-driven politics of the few.

Vibhanshu Shekhar is a Scholar-in-Residence at ASEAN Studies Center, American University. He is also a Visiting Fellow at New Delhi-based Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. He can be reached at vibesjnu@gmail.com.

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