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Libya votes in poll hoping to end post-Kadhafi chaos

AFP , Wednesday 25 Jun 2014
Libya's Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni with security officials as he talks with the media, while visiting a polling station inside a school in Tripoli,25 June, 2014. (Photo:Reuters)
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Libyans were voting Wednesday in a parliamentary election the authorities hope will end political turmoil and deadly violence that has gripped the country since the ouster of dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

In the past few weeks, Libya has been rocked by a crisis that saw two rival cabinets jostling for power amid a crippling showdown between Islamists and liberals, as violence raged in the east, where a rogue general is battling jihadists.

A patchwork of militias, including Islamic extremists, who helped to overthrow Kadhafi in the NATO-backed uprising of 2011 have been blamed for violence that has continued unabated since the end of the revolt.

"These are the last chance elections. We are placing much hope in the future parliament to restore the security and stability of our country," said Amr Baiou, 32, as he emerged from a polling station in Tripoli.

Security was tight around some polling stations in the capital, while totally absent at others.

Electoral officials reported no major incidents by early afternoon but at midday turnout stood at just 13 percent.

Electoral commission member Abdelhakim al-Shaab said he expected voters to emerge in large numbers later in the day when temperatures in the largely desert nation dropped.

No voting was held in the eastern town of Derna, a stronghold of jihadists, for fear of attacks on polling stations.

In the south, just five out 15 polling stations opened in the Kufra region for "security reasons," the electoral commission said.

Interim prime minister Abdullah al-Thani said the election was "proceeding normally."

"Regarding the organisation of voting in Derna, there will be measures to take this week," he added without elaborating.

The heavily armed rebels who ousted and killed Kadhafi have carved out their own fiefdoms in the deeply tribal country, some even seizing oil terminals and crippling crude exports from a sector key to government revenues.

The General National Congress (GNC), or parliament, which has served as Libya's highest political authority since the revolt, was elected in July 2012, in the country's first ever free polls.

But it has been mired in controversy and accused of hogging power, with successive governments complaining its role as both executive and legislative authority has tied their hands in taming militias.

The crisis came to a head in February when the assembly, whose term had been due to expire, decided to prolong its mandate until December.

That sparked street protests and forced lawmakers to announce the election.

Almost 3.5 million Libyans are eligible to vote but only 1.5 million have registered, a far cry from the more than 2.7 million who registered two years ago.

Voters were choosing from among 1,628 candidates, with 32 seats in the 200-strong GNC reserved for women and would-be MPs banned from belonging to any political party.

Polling ends at 8:00 pm (1800 GMT), and final results are expected in "several days", according to electoral officials.

The UN Security Council has expressed hopes that the vote can be a stepping stone out of the chaos.

"These elections are an important step in Libya's transition towards stable democratic governance," it said this week.

For analyst Salem Soltan, none of the candidates standing in the elections "carry the political or social weight" needed in the assembly.

The new parliament risks "being run by shadow MPs, who will act according to instructions from warlords and militias," he said.

But some of those taking part in Wednesday's poll disagreed.

"We are voting so as not to repeat the mistakes of the past," said Salah al-Thabet.

"We voted in the first elections just to vote. This time I have really researched the candidates, and I voted for the right people," added the 62-year-old pensioner, after casting his ballot in central Tripoli.

Authorities have been struggling to build a strong army and police force and now face defections from members of the security forces who have joined the ranks of rogue general Khalifa Haftar who is battling Islamists in second city Benghazi.

Haftar, accused by authorities of trying to mount a coup, said he would observe a truce during the vote, but the Islamists did not divulge their intentions.

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