Libya's historic elections: Youth activists pave way for future role

 Students were trained on how to educate their university peers on voting procedures. Photo: UNDP
Students were trained on how to educate their university peers on voting procedures. Photo: UNDP

When Ayman Ramdan, a student at the University of Tripoli in Libya, left his home early on 28 June, he had a long day ahead of him.

With just over a week before the country’s first free multi-party elections in six decades, he was joining 15 other student activists for the Open Day to Encourage Electoral Participation of University Youth, supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).  

These students were trained on how to educate their university peers on voting procedures for the elections of the 200-seat General National Congress (GNC) which will serve as an interim parliament as Libyans draft a new constitution.  

Highlights

  • 1.76 million Libyans voted on 7 July 2012 to elect the country’s new General National Congress; a turnout of about 63 percent of registered voters.
  • Over half a million students are registered in Libya’s 13 public universities and 11 national institutes of vocational training.
  • Twenty-six civic educators - 15 women and 11 men - graduated from the BRIDGE training which started in March 2012.
  • Voter education efforts trained more than 1,000 volunteers from around 400 non-governmental organizations in Libya’s 13 electoral districts.

“I raised awareness all day and continued to spread the message through my evening youth-oriented programme on the radio,” said Ayman, about his preparations for the 7 July voting day, noting that this is the first time the younger generation could vote.  

Other groups of peer educators held simultaneous Voting Open Days in 11 of Libya’s 13 public universities. Set up in popular, easy-to-spot areas on campus, student activists used voter education flipcharts and other promotional materials - prepared by the Libyan High National Electoral Commission – to communicate vital information and raise awareness.  

Participating students were quizzed on electoral procedures and more than 20,000 “Libya Votes” t-shirts and caps were distributed.  Ayman and his colleagues were trained by certified civic educators who graduated from the BRIDGE programme (Building Resources in Democracy, Governance and Elections), supported by UNDP, which aims to promote democracy and good governance through multi-stakeholder learning, dialogue and networking.

“The students themselves were the ones explaining electoral procedures to their peers,” said Hind ElShawiesh, the BRIDGE trainer who led outreach efforts at the National Academy in Tripoli. “It was clear that the students we trained were very well-prepared and played their role in creating awareness perfectly,” she added proudly.

Within the UN Integrated Electoral Support Team - lead by the UN Support Mission in Libya - UNDP played a vital role in civic and voter education through two initiatives: the Support to Civic Engagement in Libya’s Transition (SCELT) Project – which focuses on long-term civic education and electoral literacy - and the Libyan Electoral Assistance Project (LEAP).

In addition to the Open Days in universities, UNDP depended on its BRIDGE civic educators to extend voter education through the Libyan Scouts Organization and an extensive network of over 400 newly formed non-governmental organizations covering all 13 electoral districts in the country.

This community outreach effort also succeeded in spreading basic voting information to constituents in some of the most remote villages of Libya. In total, 1.76 million people cast their votes on polling day.  

The initiative has also been successful in preparing a cadre of civic educators, like Ayman, committed to being a part of Libya’s transition to democracy.

“Youth are drivers of change, as we have seen in the revolution,” said Eric Overvest, UNDP Country Director in Libya. “We can count on their strong spirit of engagement to champion the new realities in Libya where everyone feels that they can have a stake in the future of the country.”