Libya Votes In First Election Since Gadhafi's Ouster

Reply Sat 7 Jul, 2012 10:48 am
Libya Votes In First Election Since Gadhafi's Ouster
by The Associated Press
July 7, 2012

Libyans started voting on Saturday in the first parliamentary election since the ouster and slaying last year of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, a major step forward on the tumultuous transition to democratic government after more than four decades of authoritarian rule.

The election for a 200-seat legislature was being held amid intense regional rivalries, fears of violence and calls for a boycott. However, lines began to form outside polling centers more than an hour before they were scheduled to open in the capital Tripoli. Policemen and army soldiers were guarding the centers, searching voters as well as election workers.

Libya's election is the latest fruit of Arab Spring revolts against authoritarian leaders. It is likely to be dominated by Islamist parties of all shades, a similar outcome to elections held in the country's neighbors Egypt and Tunisia, which had had their own, though much less bloody, uprisings.

In the oil-rich east, where there is a thriving autonomy movement, calls for a boycott and pre-election violence have cast a shadow over the vote. But in Tripoli, voters were jubilant.

Libyans flashed the "V" for victory sign as they entered the polling centers. Motorists honked their horns as they drove past to greet the voters lined outside. Others shouted "Allahu Akbar," or "God is Greater," from their car windows.

The election lines brought together Libya's women, men, youth and children accompanying their parents. There were women in black abayas, or black robes, bearded men, elderly men and women on wheelchairs or using canes to support themselves. Some voters arrived at polling centers with the Libyan red, green and black flags wrapped around their shoulders.

"Look at the lines. Everyone came of his and her own free will. I knew that day would come and Gadhafi would not be there forever," said Riyadh Al-Alagy, a 50-year-old civil servant in Tripoli. "He left us a nation with a distorted mind, a police state with no institutions. We want to start from zero," he said, as a woman came out of the polling center ululating and flashing the purple ink on one of her fingers. The ink is used to prevent multiple voting.

Saturday's vote is a key milestone on a nine-month transition toward democracy for the country after a bitter civil war that ended with the capture and killing of Gadhafi in October. Many Libyans had hoped the oil-rich nation of 6 million would quickly thrive and become a magnet for investment, but the country has suffered a virtual collapse in authority that has left formidable challenges. Armed militias still operate independently, and deepening regional and tribal divisions erupt into violence with alarming frequency.

On the eve of the vote, gunmen shot down a helicopter carrying polling materials near the eastern city of Benghazi, the birthplace of the revolution, killing one election worker, said Saleh Darhoub, a spokesman for the ruling National Transitional Council. The crew survived after a crash landing.

Prime Minister Abdurrahim el-Keib vowed the government would ensure a safe vote Saturday, and condemned the election worker's killing and those who seek to derail the vote.

It was not immediately clear who was behind Friday's shooting, but it was the latest unrest in a messy run-up to the vote that has put a spotlight on some of the major fault lines in the country — the east-west divide, the Islamist versus secularist political struggle.

Many in Libya's oil-rich east feel slighted by the election laws issued by the National Transitional Council, the body that led the rebel cause during the civil war. The laws allocate the east less than a third of the parliamentary seats, with the rest going to the western region that includes Tripoli and the sparsely-settled desert south.
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Reply Sat 7 Jul, 2012 11:38 am
Jul. 06, 2012
For 3,700 candidates in Libyan election, winning means standing out in crowd
By Nancy A. Youssef | McClatchy Newspapers

TRIPOLI, Libya -- ]

Shukri Baker’s notion of politics, like most Libyans’, was once limited to the four-decade push to get rid of former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, in Baker’s case as an underground organizer during last year’s uprising that led to Gadhafi’s fall.

On Saturday, Baker will experience an overdose of democracy during Libya’s first election in more than 50 years. He is one of 158 candidates for three seats in a district of 300,000 people. Baker is one of 3,700 candidates vying for 200 parliamentary seats.

His job for the last month as a candidate has not been to sell his views or his vision for Libya, but to stand out in the crowd.

With so many candidates running in such a short election cycle, a vote slated to redefine Libyan politics in the post-Gadhafi era has very little to do with political vision. The winning candidates will largely consist of those with the most posters, the largest tribes, the best social network or the most number of friends, Baker and other parliamentary candidates said.

“How are people supposed to choose a candidate if they only see his picture on campaign ads? People don’t know what they are voting for,” explained Abdel Nasser al Sakalany, 57, an independent candidate in Tripoli’s Anzara district. Regardless, “you have to go through this period because we have no alternative.”

Baker’s is the 116th name on the ballot from which 132,000 registered voters will choose in Tripoli’s Hay al Landalus district.

“Everyone thought running for an election would be easy. We didn’t know. So people ran for Parliament. But they didn’t think about funding or what their vision should be,” Baker said. “Now winning is about relationships.”

Where most nations of the Arab Spring had some sense of politics, Gadhafi had isolated Libya from any political evolution. During Gadhafi’s tenure, activists were arrested or killed as only one party – his Green Party— could exist.

Saturday’s election is Libya’s attempt to create a political structure. The Parliament will choose the next prime minster and Cabinet. And 60 members will be elected to write a constitution to replace the Green Book, a diatribe of Gadhafi edicts that guided the country since 1969.

Yet those who make up the legislative body could win by a few hundred votes.

Libya’s nascent government, formed just over a year ago, has focused largely on addressing the concerns in cities that led to the uprising, which began in February 2011 and ended with Gadhafi’s death last August.

In Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city and the heart of the uprising, there is talk of splitting the country up and outrage over the number of seats it will have in the new Parliament – 26, to Tripoli’s 30. There have been outbreaks of violence against election centers around Benghazi, raising concerns about how orderly Saturday’s election there will be.

Indeed, on Friday, someone reportedly shot at an election helicopter in Benghazi. A day earlier, someone set fire to an elections office in the nearby city of Ajdabiya.

The legislature is structured in a complex way that appears to limit any one party from dominating the election. In local district council elections held throughout the country during the spring, the Muslim Brotherhood garnered 51 percent of the votes. For the Parliament, there are 73 districts each represented by individual candidates, party candidates or both. In those districts, voters will receive two ballots. Baker’s district consists of three individual candidates and three party candidates.

Baker, 37, is a mechanical engineer by trade, and his campaign staff of 45 is largely fellow engineers. They work out of a friend’s office. Most of their rival candidates don’t have a slogan; Baker’s is: “We chose Libya. Who will you choose?”

He found 80 friends to put his campaign poster on their cars’ back windows. Facebook and Twitter are the best measure they have of their reach. Baker has 3,000 “likes” on his Facebook page, a promising sign, according to his campaign.

Unlike most candidates, Baker raised enough money through friends to air radio ads, which include a campaign song written for him. Less fortunate candidates used existing songs or simply limited their campaigns to posters that now litter the capital.

Gadhafi looms over the campaign. Some candidates are fighting for votes by campaigning as his biggest foe. Al Sakalany, for example, has let voters know he was arrested twice under Gadhafi, once for talking about killing him and the other time for plotting it.

Baker rejects such campaigning, saying it is time to focus on the future. And however haphazard and hurried the process has been, the need for a new system is hard to miss. Each city has created its own system of governance, armed forces and definition of a successful post-Gadhafi Libya.

And in the capital, the massive compound that once housed Gadhafi is now hundreds of feet of rubble. An array of campaign posters now decorate what were the walls of the compound.

Special correspondent Bahaa Aturban contributed from Tripoli.
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