Libyans should have turned out in large numbers to vote in the parliament election yesterday. But according to reports, less than half the eligible voters turned up to exercise their right. The mood was pessimistic; there was a sense of disappointment about the direction of the country, with many who fought for freedom from Muammar Gaddafi now saying they didn’t expect Libya to plunge into the current state. Election, it seems, doesn’t give hope to many. Turnout was much lower than in July 2012, the first free national vote in more than 40 years. Some 1.5 million were registered to vote, compared with 2.8 million in 2012, after rules were tightened. Libyan news channels broadcasting from the main cities
showed mostly empty polling stations. The poll was also overshadowed by violence. At least five people were killed in heavy clashes between Islamists and government forces in the eastern city of Benghazi.
The election was called last month as a way to strengthen the federal authority in Tripoli after a renegade army general, Khalifa Haftar, opened a campaign against Islamists in the east. The poor turnout shows ordinary Libyans have no faith in the central government, which means Libyans are looking at a bleak future. Many think the new government will do little better than the current one, though it has initiated some measures to instill confidence in people. For example, in an effort to restore faith in democracy, parliament has a new name, the House of Representatives instead of the discredited General National Congress. It will also have a new location, moving to the eastern capital of Benghazi, and a new set up, with political parties banned and candidates standing as independents.
One reason for low voter turnout is said to be the profusion of candidates. Many voters don’t know these candidates, nor about their ideologies and policies, while there is a general distrust about the established parties. If the government in Tripoli doesn’t put its house in order, Libya is set to plunge into further chaos. The government is already is struggling to impose its authority over heavily-armed rebels, militias and tribes which helped oust Gaddafi but are now ruling the country. The militias are likely to become more emboldened due to a weak election. It’s unfortunate that the national army is still in its infancy in terms of its ability to fight the battle-hardened militias. The country is also facing a severe economic crisis, which is another recipe for a disaster.
Divisions need to be bridged between Libya’s west and the neglected east where many demand autonomy and a greater share of the nation’s oil wealth. The country’s leaders need to learn from the example of Tunisia and make compromises to rescue the country from a civil war.