Friday 23 February 2018

Libyans get first taste of democracy in decades

Luke Harding

Voters flock to polls but gunmen in Benghazi try to disrupt election

FEDERALISTS in eastern Libya attacked several polling stations yesterday as the country voted in the historic first election since last year's revolution and the death of Muammar Gaddafi.

Although voting took place peacefully across much of the country, armed gangs in Benghazi stormed a polling station and set ballot papers alight.

Two other polling stations were attacked, with one man shot in the arm. There were similar incidents in the eastern coastal towns of Guba and Suluq, where fighters stopped ballot papers being delivered.

However, in the capital Tripoli and other cities, thousands queued from 8am to vote, the overwhelming majority of them for the first time.

Libya's last election took place in 1964 under King Idris al-Senussi, whom Gaddafi ousted five years later at the point of a rifle.

Many residents were overwhelmed at the opportunity to vote and the mood across the capital was festive. Residents waved the red, black and green revolutionary colours and honked their car horns.

The federalists are deeply unhappy at the distribution of seats in the new national congress. The outgoing National Transitional Council allocated seats on the basis of population, with 100 going to the west, 60 to the east and 40 to the south. The federalists say the regions should have a third each.

The revolution has reignited Benghazi's long-standing feelings of marginalisation and injustice, fuelled by the city being the first to rise up against Gaddafi on February 17 last year.

On Friday, armed groups shut several important eastern oil terminals in protest. They also used anti-aircraft guns to fire on a helicopter carrying election materials, forcing it to land and killing a 22-year-old election volunteer.

The national election commission in Tripoli admitted last night that some election material had been "destroyed" in Benghazi. But it said that polling had gone ahead in 94 per cent of voting centres -- 1,453 out of 1,554 -- with officials trying to deliver new ballot papers where the security situation allowed.

Western leaders praised the election, with the US senator John McCain on a visit to Tripoli, and British foreign minister William Hague tweeting enthusiastically that the vote was a "historic moment and achievement after much suffering".

The results will not be known for several days. The Muslim Brotherhood Justice and Development party is expected to do well, with some predicting that Islamists will sweep to power, as they have done in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt.

However, many voters said yesterday that they had supported Mahmoud Jibril, a pragmatic moderate and Libya's former interim prime minister. Some expect him to win by a landslide.

© Observer

Sunday Independent

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