PUBLISHED: 19:06 EST, 7 July 2012 | UPDATED: 08:39 EST, 8 July 2012
- Crowds form long queues at polling stations in Tripoli
- An impressive 80 per cent of those eligible to vote registered
A huge turnout of voters was reported all over Libya yesterday in the country’s first free national elections for more than 40 years.
Jubilant crowds in the capital Tripoli formed long queues at polling stations, with many voters dressed in the green, black and red of post-Gaddafi Libya. Some carried flags and balloons, while others were in tears as they spoke of the bloody price the country had paid to achieve liberation.
‘This is the best moment of my life,’ said student Esra El-Ani, 18. ‘But my brothers died to get us to this day. Now it is our duty to start building Libya into the greatest country in the world.’
Change: Women queue to cast their vote in Tripoli yesterday
Old men in their Sunday best talked of the historic meaning of a day when they could choose their next government. One candidate standing as an independent, Dr Mustufa Abourkhis, said: ‘This is unbelievable, just to stand here and be able to cast a vote for the people we want to run our country. I don’t even care if I win a place or not.’
An impressive 80 per cent of those eligible to vote had registered – 2.8 million out of Libya’s 6.5 million population.
But the orderliness of Tripoli’s 30 polling stations and an eerie calm in the city as it sweltered in 38C heat, gave the lie to chaos elsewhere in the country. Fears of threats from illegal militias and calls for an election boycott marred the process by which a 200-seat General National Congress will elect a prime minister and cabinet and form a body to draft a new constitution.
In the restive east of Libya, a growing number of armed militias have set up fortified compounds where they operate outside of the law, several of them declaring themselves martyrs and followers of religious fundamentalists.
Hope: A young Benghazi boy wears the red, black and green of post-Gaddafi Libya
In the event of election results displeasing them, they are capable of destabilising the region. Yesterday, gunshots were reported in city streets.
Fundamentalists have been blamed for several recent attacks on foreign targets. British Ambassador Dominic Asquith’s convoy of vehicles was ambushed by a rocket attack near the Embassy’s office in Benghazi four weeks ago and the offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross were another target.
Deeply held suspicions that the east will continue to be marginalised in government fund allocation has led to the formation of the Cyrenaica Council by tribal leaders and former rebel commanders who demand semi-autonomy.
They blockaded the main coastal highway last week in protest at the elections, while other factions took over oil installations in Ras Lanuf and Brega, and saboteurs burned down election offices in Ajdabiya.
Turning point: An impressive 80 per cent of those eligible to vote had registered – 2.8¿million out of Libya¿s 6.5¿million population
In the south, election observers were unable to reach the tribal areas around Kufra due to infighting between the Tebu and Tuareg people, while militia clashes in the Nafusa Mountains killed dozens.
Fears are also being expressed for the resolution of the east-west divide dating back to Gaddafi’s rule, and the power struggle between secularists and Islamists.
Four main parties have emerged as frontrunners, with the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood expected to make huge gains as they have recently done in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt. The Nation Party, Al-Wattan, is backed by Islamist cleric Ali Salabi with controversial former Gaddafi prisoner and Jihadist Abdul Hakim Belhadj as its best-known candidate.
The National Forces Alliance, a coalition of 58 political parties headed by Mahmoud Jibril, prime minister in the aftermath of Libya’s revolution last year, is seen as being the most liberal of the frontrunners.
The National Front Party is putting up 45 candidates, and is popular for its consistent campaign against Gaddafi. But political observer George Grant, writing in the Tripoli Herald, warned: ‘The only certainty about this election is that nothing at all is certain. Libya is taking a plunge into the unknown.’