Libyans gear for first poll in almost half a century
TRIPOLI IN THE small courtyard of a kindergarten in Tripoli, about 20 women gather to hear why they should vote for Majdah al-Fallah in Libya’s first elections in almost half a century.
Dressed in a long robe and Islamic headscarf, the 46- year-old doctor introduces herself and her party. But when she opens the floor to discussion, Fallah is bombarded by the most basic questions, not about her policies, but about how elections work.
“What is actually going to happen when we go to the polling station. How many people do we vote for?” one woman asks.
What will the elected assembly do, others ask, and what is the role of political parties in government.
Though she is running for the formidable Muslim Brotherhood, there are no flashy campaign managers mapping Fallah’s every step, no loudspeakers, microphones, balloons or streamers.
Almost a year after Libyans ousted Moamer Qadhafi in a NATO-backed rebellion, they are preparing to elect a 200-strong assembly that will help to draft a new constitution for the new Libya they hope to build.
The Brotherhood, the most politically sophisticated and well financed group running, is expected to do well after receiving a boost from the Islamist victory in Egypt.
Al-Wattan, a group led by former militia leader Abdul Hakim Bel Haj, is highly visible.
Mahmoud Jibril’s coalition is also popular with Libyans who were impressed by the political skills he displayed in the uprising.
But the election rules are likely to usher in an assembly dominated by a fragmented patchwork of independents representing competing local interests rather than fixed ideologies.
And while 2.7 million Libyans registered to vote — almost 80 percent of eligible voters in the North African country — most are still struggling to learn the rules of democracy only days before they put it into practice on July 7
“Under Qadhafi, we were taught that people in political parties were traitors to the state,” teacher Fawzia Masoud said.
“Now we are learning what a party is, what it does and how elections are held.
We’ve never done this before but it’s exciting.” Unlike Egypt or Tunisia, where sham elections regularly saw serious opponents sidelined and veteran leaders re-elected with over 90 percent of the vote, Libyans last went to polls in 1964 under King Idriss, who was overthrown by Qadhafi five years on.
During Qadhafi’s 42-year rule, parties were banned and political institutions were virtually non-existent.
For most Libyans, July 7 will be the first time they cast a ballot. Understaffed and underfunded, the commission organising the election has already been forced to put voting back from the original June 19 date and has struggled to explain how the new system will work.
“We need rallies and conferences and people to go into homes and teach simpler people about the elections,” said Fatima Gleidan, 47, who attended Fallah’s gathering last week.
“The media is not doing enough to teach people about the role of the national assembly or how to choose from a list of independent or party candidates.” Amid the confusion, the capital of Libya is oddly subdued almost a week before voting day. Walls are only just filling with the usual posters of candidates flashing toothy smiles. Banners are few and far between.
There are no noisy rallies, with loudspeakers blaring the virtues of rival parties.
It’s hard to believe more than 3,000 people are running.