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Libya to Hold First Free Election in 60 Years

  • Al Pessin

TRIPOLI — Nearly three million Libyans have registered to vote in the country's first multi-party election in 60 years, set for Saturday. They will choose among 1400 candidates for a 200-seat National Assembly that will form a temporary government and draft a constitution, leading to another election next year.

Nine months ago, Libyans were celebrating in a square in central Tripoli. They renamed it Martyrs' Square, in memory of the fighters who died in the revolution that ended 42 years of rule by Moammar Gadhafi.

Today, the square is busy with traffic and decorated with campaign posters for Saturday's election.

Tripoli cafes are buzzing about the election. Student Amin Siyala is home for the summer from school in Britain.

“Stuff hasn't become suddenly a lot better. That's just truth right now. But obviously we know it will get better because there still needs to be time for the elections to happen and for a new government to come and bring change,” Siyala said.

Not far away, at a more traditional cafe next to a Roman ruin, several older men also want to talk politics. Mohammed al-Hadi bin-Noba says many Libyans don't really understand what they are voting for. But he says in a way that doesn't matter. “The election is of secondary importance compared with the blood that has been spilled to make the revolution a success,” he said.

There are still concerns about security, amid tribal clashes, fighting among militias formed for the revolution, and regional disputes about power sharing. An Amnesty International report this week says those problems must be brought under control.

British analyst Anthony Skinner, at the Maplecroft risk assessment firm, shares the concern, but he told VOA via Skype the overall trajectory in Libya is positive.

“It's inevitable that these various groups will want to ensure that their interests are protected. And they will continue to jockey for power. And unfortunately because of the level of armament and because the various militias have not been absorbed into the military, this will translate into further gun battles, I expect,” Skinner said.

But the problems are far from the minds of this family having a day out in Tripoli.

Dr. Mohammed Reda Mangoos and his wife Naima Al-Taher are excited about the vote, and the doctor remembers Libya's last free election in 1952. “That day, I was about six years old. I still remember, like a dream. There was voting in my city. I still remember, like a dream. Now, we are proud to see this again,” Mangoos said.

“It's enough for us that we see all the posters of the candidates all around, colors and faces from all kinds of personalities. It used to be just one picture of one man filled the whole area. You didn't see anyone but Gadhafi,” Al-Taher said.

There are more than 140 parties and small factions campaigning for the election, and hundreds of independent candidates. Islamists are expected to do well, as is a secular group of officials who were involved in last year's transition. But Libyans from all walks of life say the country will plot a moderate course regardless of who is elected.

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