Libya gears up for ‘historic’ elections

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A Libyan man walks next to election campaign poster for the upcoming General National Congress election in Benghazi on 4 July, 2012, as the nation prepares to vote on 7 July for a constituent assembly, the first body elected since the ouster of dictator Moammar Gaddafi, tasked with steering the country through its critical transition. Photo – Getty Images

Libyan cities are flooded with thousands of campaign posters put up by people campaigning to elect a 200-member assembly which will lead the oil-rich nation over a short transition period – roughly 12 months if all milestones are met – with the main aim of delivering a constitution to govern future elections.

Massive billboards dominate the main arteries of the capital Tripoli which were once dominated by Moammar Gaddafi’s messages.

The advertising tsunami in Tripoli and other cities is part of the campaign to seduce voters ahead of Saturday’s election.

The ruling National Transitional Council (NTC), which took power after a popular uprising toppled Gaddafi last year, will be replaced by the legislative body and will appoint a new interim government as well as a constituent authority.

Libyans just had 18 days to familiarise themselves with newly emerging politicians vying for 80 and 120 seats, respectively, in the General National Congress.

The electoral commission deemed 2,501 independents and 1,206 political association candidates eligible to run after vetting. A total of 142 political entities are fielding candidates.

Campaigning closes on Thursday.

More than 2.7 million Libyans, or around 80% of the eligible electorate, have registered for the Saturday’s election.

Many people are welcoming the experience and insist it is something new to them.

Ahmed Larbi, a postal worker in his sixties, says he “doesn’t know any of the candidates running” in his voting district, Hay al-Andalus, a posh residential neighbourhood of the capital.

He plans to wing his vote by imitating others because he doesn’t know how.

The electoral commission has tried to facilitate understanding of the voting procedures by allowing a huge number of leaflets, pamphlets and stickers to be distributed by campaigners.

However, that has partly helped the candidates to close that knowledge gap in the run-up to elections with the electoral commission admonishing the newly-independent media on several occasions for not playing a larger role in voter education.

One TV channel, Libya Elects, presents candidates and their manifestos in monotonous slide show fashion, in line with the guidelines pronounced by the electoral commission that dictates equal air time for  candidates.

The commission also capped campaign spending at 70,000 Libyan dinars ($55,188) for independent and 150,000 dinars ($118,500) for party candidates. However, candidates are having a field day as there are no verification mechanisms in place.

Foreign funding is prohibited.

Libyan NTC and its international partners are keen to portray the historic vote, the first national poll after four decades of authoritarian rule under Gaddafi, as a victory of democracy and freedom.

Fierce clashes are taking place in the nearby Nafusa mountains and further afield in the desert city of Kufra in the east and it is not sure if polling would take place in these regions. However, the interim authorities have reiterated to hold the vote on Saturday as promised.

The Libyan electoral commission and transitional council is receiving support from the United Nations Support Mission to Libya  while the EU is fielding a team of 21 observers across the country to monitor the voting.

Libyans and international observers seem to agree that the first-time vote doesn’t have to be perfect and hope that it will unfold peacefully despite threats of boycott and sabotage by some parties in the east.

“This vote in many ways is a rehearsal,” one Western diplomat told AFP.

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