Libyans vote for new parliament

Poll to elect House of Representatives takes place as rebel general vows to continue military campaign through summer.

Libyans have voted for a new national parliament in a sombre atmosphere very different from the festivities seen in their first democratic elections two years ago.

Only 1.5 million people registered to vote, compared to more than three million for the last elections in 2012, with many Libyans not convinced that a democratic government can solve the problems of violence and stagnation that have ensnared their country since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

A trickle of voters on Wednesday came to the El Haji Arafa elementary school polling station in central Tripoli, which saw none of the long lines and festival atmosphere of two years before.

“I am voting because it is the best way to make a change,” Hassan, a languages student, said.

“But a lot of my friends say, why bother?”

The elections take place against a background of violence, with a rebel general, Khalifa Haftar, battling armed groups in the eastern city of Benghazi and tribal fighting in other parts of the country.

Turkey evacuated more than 400 of its citizens after Haftar issued a threat, asking Turkish and Qatari nationals to leave eastern Libya, blaming them for supporting armed groups.

An election-day ceasefire declared by Haftar’s forces in Benghazi held early through the day but gunfire was heard near a polling station towards the evening.

He has pledged to continue his military campaign against Islamist militias through the summer.

SPOTLIGHT: The fight for a new Libya

This offensive, which has reduced parts of Benghazi to a battleground, will complicate the planned relocation of the new parliament to this eastern city from Tripoli.

Legislators will hope the Benghazi location will spare it the periodic attacks by militias which interrupted the former General National Congress in Tripoli.

Election organisers the Higher National Elections Commission (HNEC) said there had been little sign of violence or protests for election day, and are confident that the process will be completed on time.

The HNEC has yet to declare when election results will be published, and it may be many weeks before the complexion of the new House of Representatives, which replaces the General National Congress (GNC), is known, because candidates are standing as individuals, without party affiliations.

Neither of Libya’s largest parties, the nationalist National Forces Alliance or the Muslim Brotherhood-led Justice and Construction Party, fielded candidates, as both are discredited in the eyes of many Libyans by failing to solve the country’s problems.

The former congress was stormed by militias allied to Haftar in May, and last October saw the now former prime minister, Ali Zeidan, briefly kidnapped by a militia in Tripoli.

The new parliament is, like the former congress, a transitional body, set to work until a constitution is written by a constitutional assembly elected in February.

For ordinary Libyans, the priority is to restore a sense of order in a country that is dominated by overlapping militia fiefdoms.

A rebel oil blockade which began last summer has caused fuel shortages which have seen frequent power blackouts and long lines at the few petrol stations still open.

Source: Al Jazeera