Libya’s first free national elections after Ghaddafi bring joy, few violence

Libyan-woman-votes-july7-2012-afp-pix

 

Libyan-woman-votes-july7-2012-afp-pix

AFP: The vote went ahead despite protesters disrupting some polling in the restive east. In Tripoli, voting began with queues of people keen to elect the General National Congress, which will be at the helm of the country for a transition period.

“Words cannot capture my joy, this is a historic day,” said Fawziya Omran, 40, voting in a school in the heart of Tripoli.

Some voters in the capital sported black, red and green flags – the colours of the revolution that toppled Muammar Gaddafi last year – as mosques played loud chants of “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest).

Joy was also palpable in the eastern city of Benghazi, cradle of the revolt.

“I feel like my life has been wasted so far, but now my children will have a better life,” said Hueida Abdul Sheikh, a 47-year-old mother of three.

Protesters demanding greater representation in the 200-member congress forced the closure of many polling stations elsewhere in the region, however.

Nuri al-Abbar, chairman of the electoral commission, said acts of sabotage, mostly in the east, prevented 101 polling stations from opening.

“Ninety-four per cent of polling stations opened,” he told reporters in Tripoli, with voting under way in 1453 out of 1554 centres.

“Some of the polling stations were not opened. Because of security reasons, logistical materials haven’t reached them,” he said.

The commission said it was sending fresh materials to the affected centres.

Protesters unhappy over the east’s share of seats in the new assembly targeted polling centres and forced oil facilities to shut down ahead of the election.

And on the eve of the landmark vote an election worker was killed when a helicopter carrying election materials was targeted.

UN envoy to Libya Ian Martin yesterday condemned the protesters’ “resort to violence,” but said the disruptions were unlikely to “spoil the election.”

One voter in Benghazi, housewife Hadija Ibrahim al-Majrab, 35, condemned anti-vote protesters.

“They have their views and they are free to express them, but this is not the way as what we want in the new Libya is law and order,” she said in the city’s upmarket Al-Fuwayid district.

Interim leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil was jubilant as he voted in his hometown of Al-Bayda in the east.

“This happy day sets the foundations of a new Libya,” he said.

US Senator John McCain, an early backer of anti-Gaddafi rebels and their political leaders, hailed Libya’s “first step towards democracy” on a visit to Tripoli.

Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, who heads a team of 21 European Union observers, said the vote marks a major milestone after 42 years of dictatorship.

“We believe that to have this election in Libya less than one year after the fall of Tripoli is an important achievement,” Mr Lambsdorff said.

“We only hope that the situation remains peaceful across the country. The majority of Libyans want to vote. Eighty per cent want to vote.”

The make-up of the congress has been a matter of heated debate, with factions such as the federalist movement calling for more seats.

The outgoing National Transitional Council (NTC) says seats were distributed according to demographics, with 100 going to the west, 60 to the east and 40 to the south.

But factions in the east, which was marginalised under Gaddafi, want an equal split and threatened to sabotage the vote if their demand was not met.

The authorities dismiss such groups as a minority, noting that more than 2.7 million people, or about 80 per cent of the electorate, registered to vote.

Libya has not seen elections since the era of the late king Idris, whom Gaddafi deposed in a bloodless coup in 1969.

Political parties were banned as an act of treason during Gaddafi’s iron-fisted rule. Now there are 142 parties fielding candidates.

A total of 80 seats are reserved for party candidates while 120 seats are open to individual candidates. Altogether, 3707 candidates are standing in 72 districts across the country.

From the parties, the coalition of ex-revolution prime minister Mahmud Jibril is seen as a key contender among liberals, facing stiff competition from two Islamist parties – Justice and Development and Al-Wattan.

The winds of the Arab Spring that ushered Islamists into power in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt may well bring about the same result in Libya.

The incoming congress will have legislative powers and appoint an interim government. But a last-minute decree by the NTC stripped its right to appoint a constituent assembly, which will be chosen in a separate election instead.

The uprising that began in Benghazi in February 2011 ended more than four decades of rule under Gaddafi who was captured and killed in October in his final bastion and hometown of Sirte.

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