Poor turnout in Libya vote for constitution-drafting body

February 21, 2014 - 6:00:24 am

Electoral workers count votes at a polling station after Libyans voted to elect a body to draft a new constitution.

TRIPOLI: Libyans trickled to the polls yesterday to elect an assembly to draft a constitution, with the paltry turnout reflecting deep political disillusion with the chaos pervading Libya since Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year rule ended in 2011.

Only 360,000 people had cast ballots by the late afternoon, the election commission said, out of one million who had registered to vote - a number far lower than the three million who had registered before the 2012 parliamentary election.

Live footage from Libyan television cameras in some main polling stations showed mostly empty rooms.

Dawn explosions rocked five polling stations in the eastern town of Derna, an Islamist stronghold, but no one was hurt.

Gunmen forced one Derna voting centre to shut by firing in the air and shouting “voting is haram (forbidden)”, an election official said. Derna polling stations stayed shut and insecurity prevented some voting centres in two other towns from opening.

Nobody claimed responsibility for the Derna attacks but residents said the bombers had scrawled “There is no constitution but Islamic law” on a wall near the scene of one blast, suggesting radical Islamists were responsible.

Prime Minister Ali Zeidan’s government is struggling to assert its authority over militias which helped topple Gaddafi but kept their weapons and have become major political players.

Soldiers guarded polling stations in the capital Tripoli, as helicopters circled overhead. In the eastern city of Benghazi, gunmen threw a bag full of explosives into a voting centre, but the devices did not go off, a security source said.

The 60-strong constitutional committee, drawn equally from Libya’s three regions of Tripolitania in the west, Cyrenaica in the east and Fezzan in the south, will have 120 days to draft the charter.

Libya used a similar model for the committee that drafted a pre-Gaddafi constitution that was implemented when the country, then a monarchy, gained independence in 1951.

The new document’s authors will need to take into account political and tribal rivalries, as well as demands for more autonomy for the east, when deciding what political system Libya will adopt. Their draft will be put to a referendum.

In the east, armed protesters have occupied major oil ports since the summer to demand a greater share of energy wealth and political autonomy, crippling vital oil exports. The protest group has dismissed yesterday’s vote as fake.

The election was also boycotted by the Amazigh, or Berber, minority which lives in the west near oil installations.

Its leader, Ibrahim Makhlouf, has rejected the vote because the Amazigh wanted a bigger say in the body and guarantees that their tongue will become one of Libya’s official languages.

REUTERS

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