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Peter Millett

Ambassador to Libya, Tripoli

Part of UK in Libya

13th June 2017 Tripoli, Libya

Elections: the best form of democracy?

The United Kingdom went to the polls last week.  Over 32 million people voted for 3,304 candidates for the 650 seats in the House of Commons. This turnout was higher than in previous elections: 68.7% of registered voters went to their polling station, including 72% of young people; the latter figure up from 40% in previous elections.

That is the way the British do democracy.  In recent months, the US, France, Iran and Malta have all held elections.  Germany will go to the polls later this year.  Some countries, like the UK, hold elections based on political parties that have a particular economic, ideological or social platform. In other countries, parties are based on personalities.

Over 2,500 years ago, Athens was the cradle of democracy, the Greek word meaning the rule of the people.  The basic principle was that all eligible citizens had a voice in the way they were governed.  This concept took many years to develop and spread world-wide to become the basic principle through which the popular will is represented.

Democracy requires participation.  As wide a range of people as possible need to put their cross in the box.  If you don’t vote, you can’t complain about your government. For many years in Britain, participation was limited to men.  A major  battle over 100 years ago led by the suffragette movement eventually secured votes for women:  those over 30 in 1918 and those over 21 in 1928.

Another fundamental principle is accountability.  Politicians need to know that they have to answer to their electorate.  They need to present their policy manifestoes for open examination and debate so that people can choose.  There will always be big issues on which parties have different ideas and policies: jobs, taxation, education, health. And if the electorate don’t like a government, they have an opportunity every 4-5 years to kick them out.

Elections can of course be subject to corruption, fraud and abuse.  Stalin reportedly said: “The people who cast the votes don’t decide anything.  The people who count the votes decide.”  In North Korea, elections to the Supreme People’s Assembly enjoy an impressive 100% turnout with all the votes going to one party. If people do not have a genuine choice, or are subject to intimidation or threats of violence, true democracy will not be able to develop.

Libya has held two elections since the revolution. The election in July 2012 for the General National Congress was the first proper election since 1965.  The June 2014 election suffered from a low turnout and violence.

There is now talk of fresh elections in 2018. There is certainly a case to be made for elections: the HoR’s mandate expired in October 2015, though it extended its own mandate.  But some important steps need to be taken before such elections can take place.

There are technical requirements to allow elections to be organised throughout the country. This means security and the rule of law so that candidates can campaign without fear and people can vote freely without feeling threatened by vested interests.

Fresh elections need to flow from national reconciliation and unity.   Libyans need to come together to focus on the greater good of the nation, rather than simply support narrow or regional interests. And national reconciliation is essential so that all Libyans accept the results of the election.

There is also a question of the constitutional basis for elections.  Will the new constitution be ready?  Will the Libya Political Agreement be amended as a transitional stage?

Elections should be part of Libya’s political future, to embed the principles of representation and accountability.  Ultimately, the development of democracy in Libya is a matter for the Libyan people, based on their own history, culture and traditions.  It’s up to the Libyans to come together and decide.

About Peter Millett

Peter arrived in Tunis on 23 June 2015 to take up his post as Ambassador to Libya. Previously he was British Ambassador to Jordan from February 2011 to June 2015. He was High Commissioner to…

Peter arrived in Tunis on 23 June 2015 to take up his post as
Ambassador to Libya.
Previously he was British Ambassador to Jordan from February 2011 to June 2015.
He was High Commissioner to Cyprus from 2005 – 2010.
He was Director of Security in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
from 2002-2005, dealing with all aspects of security for British
diplomatic missions overseas.
From 1997-2001 he served as Deputy Head of Mission in Athens.
From 1993-96 Mr Millett was Head of Personnel Policy in the FCO.
From 1989-93 he held the post of First Secretary (Energy) in the UK
Representative Office to the European Union in Brussels, representing
the UK on all energy and nuclear issues.
From 1981-1985 he served as Second Secretary (Political) in Doha.
Peter was born in 1955 in London.  He is married to June Millett and
has three daughters, born in 1984, 1987 and 1991.  
His interests include his family, tennis and travel.