Libya's 'Hybrid' Election Rules and Why They Are Less Than Ideal

by Erin Ellis, Arab Spring Series // Published July 5, 2012



On July 7, eight months after Colonel Moammar Ghaddafi's death, Libya will hold its first democratic election since 1964 an event designed to begin the nation's transition from autocracy to democracy. Libyans will choose from 2,500 candidates and 142 political parties to fill its 200-seat General National Congress (GNC). Thereafter, the GNC will select a prime minister and create a 60-member committee responsible for drafting a new constitution. Elections for a new parliament then would be held some eighteen months later.

The election rules have been described as a "hybrid system," as the Assembly will be partially elected through party-list proportional representation (PR) and partially through a plurality contest in winner-take-all, one-seat districts. Unlike mixed member systems in nations like Germany and New Zealand, the allocation of proportional representation seats will not reflect the outcomes in the districtsmeaning that the political forces that win the most district seats may well also win the most party list seats and be over-represented overall.

Specifically, as Amir Taheri in the New York Post explains, Libyans will choose 80 seats by proportional representation from among conservative, liberal, socialist, Islamist and monarchist party lists. Another 120 seats will be elected by winner-take-all in one-seat districts.

This mixed system was apparently designed to balance representation of geographic areas and political interests, factoring in widely differing levels of social organization and rates of voter turnout in a country that for so long didn't hold elections. Some were concerned that electing representatives solely through a national party list form of proportional representation could over-represent better-educated voters in cities. Winner take-all elections guarantee representatives come from across the country, but at the same time, they advantage well-financed or organized parties and likely would greatly distort party representationjust as was the case in Egypt's hybrid system last fall as detailed by FairVote.

"Libya could have found better ways to provide a balance of representation," commented FairVote executive director Rob Richie. "As one example, rather than 120 winner-take-all districts, five representatives each could have been elected by a proportional system from 24 districts, thereby allowing more shared representation within different parts of the country rather than the more polarized results likely to come from winner-take-all elections. Certainly for the long-term, Libya would be wise to avoid winner-take-all elections."

In addition to ideological sprawl, the election rules are designed to promote female representation by requiring parties to designate half their candidacies to women. Despite these rules, Taheri reports that "women are still unlikely to end up with more than 10 to 15 percent of the seats [as it is] hard to find women candidates outside the larger cities."

In theory, Libya's hybrid election system could still engender relatively fair representation. However, an unbalanced Congress could stir new bouts of public unrest, especially considering that Libyan communities are known to mistrust one another. All bets are off until the votes are tallied.