Less than a third of Libyans cast vote in elections

June 26, 2014 - 12:25:59 am
An elderly Libyan man prepares to dip his finger in ink after voting in the parliamentary elections in the eastern city of Benghazi yesterday.

TRIPOLI: Less than a third of Libyan voters had taken part in parliamentary elections yesterday shortly before polling stations closed, the election commission said.

By 1730 more than 400,000 people had voted, the commission said in a statement. Some 1.5 million Libyans were registered to vote. Polling stations closed at 1900. Officials had hoped for a big turnout to give a mandate for state building in the oil producer, hit by growing turmoil three years after the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi. 

Turnout was widely expected to be much lower than in July 2012, the first free national vote in more than 40 years. Some 1.5 million voters registered, roughly half the 2.8 million on the rolls in 2012, after registration rules were tightened.

Libya is still struggling to make its transition into a stable democracy after four decades of one-man rule.  Live cameras from Libyan news channels showed mostly empty polling stations. Full results are not expected until later this week. Some polling stations stayed shut for security reasons in the eastern Islamist hotspot of Derna, Kufra in the southeast where tribes regularly clash, and the main southern city of Sabha, officials said.

Without a functioning government and parliament, Libya is struggling to impose authority over heavily-armed former rebels, militias and tribes that helped oust Muammar Gaddafi but who now defy state authority and carve out their own fiefdoms.

Libya also has a budget crisis. Protests at oilfields and shipping ports by armed militias have reduced oil production, the country’s lifeline, to a trickle.

Many Libyans fear the vote will produce just another interim assembly. A special body to draft a new national constitution has still not finished its work, leaving questions over what kind of political system Libya will eventually adopt. To discourage political infighting between parties, which paralysed decision-making and led to a crisis over two rival prime ministers in May, candidates must run as independents rather than as party representatives.

“I am participating again to vote for the House of Representatives so we can rebuild Libya,” said Munira Ashour, a female teacher. “I didn’t vote for any congressional members who had nominated themselves again because they have had their chances without making any progress.”

In Tripoli, former Prime Minister Ali Zeidan made a surprise appearance to cast his vote after returning from Europe, where he had fled when parliament ousted him in March. 

Electoral authorities tightened registration rules by requiring voters to show a national identification number, which many Libyans lack given the collapse of state services. The new parliament will again be made up of 200 seats, but will be called the House of Representatives. Thirty-two seats are allocated to women. Around 1,600 candidates were on the ballot.