9 July 2012
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Libya Elections


Saturday’s elections in Libya, the country’s first free vote in more than four decades, were an “extraordinary achievement”, but they also highlighted some of the tough challenges ahead, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative said at Headquarters today.


“[The successful elections] mustn’t blind anyone to the challenges that still lie ahead,” cautioned Ian Martin, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).  “But it’s a critical first step in Libya’s transition which has gone better than anybody in the international community, or at least the international media, expected.”


Speaking via video conference, Mr. Martin particularly praised the High National Election Commission for its work in creating — with United Nations support — an electoral system from the ground up under a tight schedule.  The polls, aimed at choosing members of the National Congress to be tasked with drafting a new constitution, were the first since the overthrow of Muammar al-Qadhafi in a 2011 pro-democracy uprising.


Describing security threats to the elections in eastern Libya, Mr. Martin commended the Election Commission’s flexibility in reaching last-minute agreements with constituencies there, including on extending the hours of polling centres where voting had been delayed, and had finally opened partly due to the determination of voters to protect the process.


Citing the judgement of international observers that the polls had been transparent, he said votes had been counted immediately at the polling centres and the results posted.  For that reason, there were already projections of the results, but tabulation of the official results was ongoing, although preliminary results had already been announced in seven constituencies.  He noted that the counting was particularly complicated because of the mixture of majority-win races in particular areas and proportional voting lists in others.


Mr. Martin responded to questions about security problems that had arisen in certain areas by explaining that some groups in the east had demanded equal representation for all three regions of Libya, which had already been agreed.  However, the National Council had agreed at the last minute that the east’s 20 members would be directly elected, instead of subjected to proportional lists.


However, that had not been the only demand of the groups, and some had tried to block the election, he continued.  The attempt was clearly not representative of the majority of the east, because the voters had mobilized to keep the polls open.  Voting in Benghazi had been delayed, but polling centres had been allowed to stay open longer, and there was no reason to think that would undermine the credibility of the vote.  Now, however, the emerging political leadership must engage in dialogue with groups in the east to resolve regional differences.


It was important that the constitution-making process be as broad-based and credible as possible, he emphasized, adding that it must take into account the concerns of those who were arguing for federalism and decentralization, which, he said, was partly a reaction to the extreme centralization of the Qadhafi regime, which had marginalized many groups.  It was important that the discussion of federalism take place within the one on a new constitution, he stressed, warning that it was not good for groups to work outside the process.


To questions about the inclusiveness of the elections, he said the Mission had kept advising on the need for as inclusive a process as possible, and that was certainly the spirit in which the Election Commission had acted.  It had made provisions for those displaced during the revolution and more recent fighting, and had taken decisions to allow alternative documentation for registration, so that even those excluded by the Qadhafi regime would be able to vote.  There had been some disputes, but the intent and results had been good, he added.


Regarding the low number of international observers, he said it was not due to a lack of openness; an invitation had been sent out for as many observers as could come.  The low turn of observers was partly due to the short timetable and partly due to security concerns on the part of the entities dispatching the observers.  More than 10,000 domestic observers had staffed the polling centres, however, and they seemed to have done an excellent job, by all accounts.


In response to other questions, he said militias were still a big issue in the country and one of the most important on the minds of voters, most of whom would probably favoured a State army under democratic control with militias either being absorbed or demobilized as soon as possible.


As for the case against Saif al-Islam Qadhafi, he said the United Nations was offering general assistance on the establishment and improvement of the judicial system, but was not involved in specific legal proceedings.  In any case, the matter was still under legal argument in The Hague, he said, adding that he therefore did not wish to comment further.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record