Libyans go to polls for first time since fall of Gadafy
LIBYANS WILL go to the polls today in the country’s first national elections since the ousting of Muammar Gadafy, but calls for a boycott and fears of unrest threaten to overshadow the historic ballot.
The poll will be Libya’s first national multiparty election since the early 1950s, almost two decades before Gadafy took power after the country’s then monarch King Idris was deposed in a bloodless military coup in 1969.
It comes nine months after Gadafy was killed in his hometown of Sirte, bringing an end to months of war as revolutionary forces, with the help of Nato airstrikes, sought to overthrow his 42-year regime.
Some 2.8 million voters, out of more than three million eligible, have registered for the ballot. Libyans are voting for a 200-strong national assembly which will appoint a new transitional government to replace the one formed by the National Transitional Council (NTC).
The assembly was also supposed to choose a committee that will draft a new constitution but the NTC on Thursday announced that the committee will instead be directly elected by the public.
This move was an attempt to ease tensions that had developed in eastern Libya over what some there feel are unfair election laws that allocate the region, which had been marginalised under Gadafy, less than one-third of the assembly seats. It has failed, however, to dampen calls for a boycott of the elections by others pushing for some measure of autonomy for Libya’s oil-rich eastern flank.
Security sources said a man piloting a helicopter carrying election material was killed yesterday when the helicopter was forced to land after it was hit by anti-aircraft fire outside the eastern city of Benghazi, cradle of last year’s revolution.
Local officials said the identity of the attackers was not immediately known.
The incident came as hundreds protested in another area of the city, calling for today’s elections to be boycotted.
Earlier this week, former revolutionary fighters linked to pro-federalist groups shut down three eastern oil refineries in an effort to cancel the elections.
The militiamen also set up checkpoints along the main highway linking east and west Libya.
Protesters in Benghazi and the nearby town of Ajdabiya have also targeted election offices, setting fire to voting papers and other materials.
“It is very sad that Libyans have waited for so long to vote for the first time and now there are people prepared to use violence to disrupt the elections,” said Mohammed Busidra, who spent more than two decades in Gadafy’s jails as a political prisoner and is now running as an independent candidate in Benghazi.
Khalid Sharif, head of Libya’s National Guard, played down the likelihood of more serious unrest. “We have a security plan in place and I’m sure the elections will go smoothly,” he told The Irish Times.
Libya’s ballot will test the country’s nascent Islamist parties, many of whom are confident they can replicate the electoral success of similar groups in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt.
The country’s Islamist spectrum includes the Muslim Brotherhood, ultra-conservative Salafis, and former members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which waged an insurgency against Gadafy in the 1990s.
Among the more than 70 candidates running for the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Justice and Construction Party is Majda Fallah, a medical doctor who joined the Muslim Brotherhood while living in Ireland.
“Some people are afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood but that is because they don’t know us,” she says. “We are moderate Muslims and we want to work together to meet the challenges facing Libya. No party can do it alone.”
Rules for the make-up of the new assembly mean Dr Fallah is one of more than 500 female candidates running for election but several such candidates have had their campaign posters defaced in Tripoli and Benghazi.
Given this is Libya’s first taste of democracy after more than four decades during which all political parties were banned, voters are likely to make their decision based on candidates they know rather than ideology.
The gap between secular and religious is narrower here than in neighbouring countries.
Almost all parties have made references in their election campaigns to the role of Sharia law in Libya’s future constitution.
New parliamentary elections are due to be held in 2013, after the constitution is drafted and approved in a referendum.