Libya tries to 'cool off' ahead of key vote

Anticipation takes hold of newly freed nation as first democratic elections in over four decades start on Saturday.


    Tripoli, Libya - With less than 24 hours before polls open for Libya’s first democratic elections in over four decades, a nervous anticipation has taken hold of the country, especially in cities in the country's east.

    Libya’s High National Election Committee (HNEC) declared Friday a “cool-off day” after campaigning had officially ended ahead of General National Conference elections.

    The polls are set to open on Saturday from 8am to 8pm and the interim government, represented by the National Transitional Council (NTC) declared a national public holiday for voters to exercise their civic duty.

    The 2.8 million registered voters will be able to cast two ballots on Saturday, one for the 2.500 independent candidates and one for the 130 political parties.

    Public service commercials on how the voting process works have been running on TV ahead of the elections to support voters. A large majority of Libyans will be  going to the polls in the first time in their lives.

    Still undecided

    Many Libyans in Tripoli were still undecided on Friday about which candidates to support. Some told Al Jazeera they would use the weekend’s family gatherings to make a final decision.

    “I have it down to two political parties. I will either vote for Hizb al Wattan [National Party] or the Tahalof al Qiwa Al Wataniye [Alliance of National Forces] of [former prime minister Mahmoud] Jibril,” Manal El Miladi, a 23-year-old medical student from Tripoli, told Al Jazeera.

    "I will vote for them of what they wrote in the their [campaign] programme. For the individual candidate race, I also still need to choose between two candidates. I will probably decide this evening. My mom also asked me who she should vote for.”

    The mood has been more tense in Libya’s second city, Benghazi, and other cities and towns in the eastern Cyrenaica region, where federalist groups have vowed to boycott and even sabotage the vote.

    Many residents of eastern Libya feel the distribution of seats in the General National Conference favours the west of the country.

    The critics say this is a continuation of the alleged marginalisation of their region that started decades ago under ousted leader Muammar Gaddafi.

    Seat allocations

    The NTC has allotted seats in the General National Conference according to population, a democratic principle that is viewed with mistrust by the less-populated east. 

    Federalist protesters in Benghazi broke into the local HNEC offices on Sunday and ransacked them. On Thursday, protesters set fire to a warehouse in the eastern city of Ajdabiya where ballot papers and other campaign material were stored.

    All material was lost in the fire, forcing the HNEC to print new ballot papers in Dubai. An official said the group "could only hope" that everything could be replaced before Saturday morning.

    Libya’s interim leaders decided on Thursday to strip the incoming assembly of one of its main responsibilities, saying it would not choose the committee that would draft the country’s first constitution, local media reported.

    The constitutional committee would instead be chosen directly by the Libyan people, an apparent goodwill gesture aimed at appeasing the eastern protesters.

    Local media reported that federalists in the east welcomed the last-minute move, but that most political parties and candidates had yet to formulate a response.

    When polls close on Saturday, the Libyan Air Force will assist with collecting the ballot papers from across the vast county and bring them to a counting centre in Tripoli, the HNEC said.

    The HNEC said it hopes partial and preliminary results would be announced from July 9 , but stressed there was no fixed date when final results would be released.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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