What the battle against COVID-19 means for ‎democratic governance progress in Libya

September 16, 2020

A Libyan woman participating in the democratic process in Libya through voting Photo: ©Iason Athanasiadis / UNSMIL

Every year, the International Day of Democracy conjures up thoughts of the values of freedom, respect for human rights, and the principle of holding periodic and genuine elections by universal suffrage. This year, the COVID-19 crisis brings to our mind the idea that Democracy is as much a process as a goal since the pandemic is having an unprecedented effect on citizen participation that can post both a challenge and an opportunity for democratic governance.

While states around the world adopt emergency measures to tackle the impact of COVID-19 in our health systems and our economies, those measures could be a threat to other rights such as freedom of expression and of the press, freedom of information, freedom of association and of assembly. On the other hand, COVID-19 opens unprecedented spaces to reimagine politics and restore confidence in democratic institutions.

In UNDP Libya, today is a day that reminds us of the strong desire and right of the people of Libya to live in peace and prosperity.

In the past decade, the people of Libya have been vocal on their rights to determine their own future. They have been standing up for freedom of expression, for equal justice, for the right to vote a representative and accountable government, and for so much more; in short, for democracy.

Democracy is often understood as the possibility for citizens to vote freely in credible elections for their representatives, to form a government that has a mandate given by the people and accountable to the people.

But it is more than that. Democracy is an entire system that guarantees the separation of powers with a government that is guided by the rule of law. It gives every citizen the right to participate in the political and public policy debate and the freedom to associate. It guarantees freedom of speech, access to justice, equal treatment, independent judiciary and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Moreover, democracy stands for inclusive participation, with the openness to listen to others and commit to overcoming grievances, disputes and conflict through dialogue and peaceful means for the greater good.

Which direction will the transition in Libya move towards? Can an inclusive democratic system encompassing the whole country be set as an immediate outcome of a peace agreement? In the last decade, Libya path for democracy has faced many challenges. The country has witnessed many promising moments but also setbacks. A lot of progress is still to be made. The conflict and divisions have deepened the wounds, now COVID-19 has worsened the situation.

However, the current end of the hostilities could be an opportunity to consolidate a formal ceasefire and a peace settlement that would further enable dialogue and result in an inclusive and broadly accepted political agreement along with a fair distribution of economic resources that brings the country and its people back together.  

UNDP has been a longstanding partner of Libya, supporting the country and its people in their efforts for democracy.

Placing ‘Good Governance for a Peaceful, Just and Inclusive society in Libya’ at the core of our mandate, UNDP has been working with national, local and non-governmental partners on processes that strengthen institutions; facilitate the Libyan political dialogue and foster an inclusive vision for national and local reconciliation; bring the rule of law at the forefront of policing and security; build the capacity and readiness for national elections, and bringing innovative ways to encourage participation in local elections with a focus on women and youth.

Municipal councils are the government institutions that are closest to the people. Local electoral processes renewing the councils’ mandate are currently the main means for citizens to express their democratic voice in Libya.

On the local level, Libya sees the fruit of the tireless work of the Central Committee for Municipal Council Elections (CCMCE) growing with the second-generation of council elections started in April 2019 despite the outbreak of violence surrounding Tripoli and lately the measures imposed by the authorities to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. 25 councils were elected since the end of 2018, their four-year mandates democratically renewed, with the latest ones in Ghat, Kikla and Misrata despite the pandemic.  Following the CCMCE request in 2018, UNDP has been supporting the Committee during THESE challenging times. Citizens electoral participation at the local level is a very strong sign of commitment with democracy by Libyan people.

At the national level, after having provided technical support for the elections in 2012-2014, UNDP and UNSMIL remain dedicated in our assistance to the High National Electoral Commission (HNEC) to maintain the institution readiness and enhance its technical capacity to run national elections when they are called.

UNDP is also working with UNSMIL to further the intra-Libyan Dialogue and promote national reconciliation. Working from the bottom-up, our programmes aim to ensure inclusive and effective mediation processes and the involvement of all constituencies in the furtherance of a comprehensive political settlement, and reforms for the economy and security sector. Support to core government functions, through these programmes, works to ensure that the state holds up its responsibilities to be accountable to Libyans citizens on a renewed social contract.     

In partnership also with UNSMIL, UNDP is supporting capacities to advance safety and security by empowering local police and criminal justice institutions towards a more effective and community-oriented policing and rule of law security and justice services.

Democracy is an ongoing process that requires time and patience to develop. It is equally important to comprehend that democracy needs strong support and protection. Furthermore, democracy relies on leaders and people to listen to each other, and to find compromises to overcome disputes and build an inclusive society for the benefit of all.

In the last few weeks, while the number of people affected by COVID-19 is on the rise, we hear the people in Libya who have been demanding, from the East to the West and the South, for peace, better services and quality of life. With all our partners, UNDP will continue to support democracy and participation as the sound foundation for inclusive and sustainable development for all people in Libya.