Tribal tension, apathy threaten to derail Libya's constitutional committee elections

Published February 20th, 2014 - 07:47 GMT

Libyans went to polling stations on Thursday to elect a constitutional committee in the latest development in the country's tumultuous political transition following the ouster of long-term ruler Muammar Gaddafi

Where there was voter enthusiasm during Libya's first free election in July 2012, public frustration has been mounting over these polls due to the government's failure to restore order to post-Gaddafi Libya, Agence France Presse reported. 

According to an AFP poll on voters, only 1.1 million of Libya's 3.4 million eligible voters signed up to vote on Thursday compared to the 2.7 million that registered 19 months ago. 

The weak central government has had increased pressure put on it after a band of powerful former rebel militias threatened to dissolve the interim General National Congress on Tuesday, which was elected in 2012, on the eve of the vote, AFP reported.

On Wednesday, the militias removed forces they had brought into Tripoli in a show of force after the U.N. called for restraint, but the incident is a reminder of the country's political fragility, according to Reuters.

Since Gaddafi was removed from power in 2011, former rebel brigades - equipped with dangerous weapons looted from the former dictator's arsenal - have taken control of large areas of Libyan land and refused to disarm or join forces with the government's army.

The lawlessness gripping Libya has demonstrated perfectly last year when Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was abducted by a former rebel militia in Tripoli.

The constitution - which is not yet finished - is set to cover the pressing issues of Libya's governmental system, the status of ethnic minorities in the country and the role of Islamic sharia law, according to AFP.

However, the government has decided to forge ahead with elections on a new transitional authority instead of waiting for the constitution to be finalised.

The 60 members of the constitutional committee who are being elected on Thursday  will have 120 days to draft the charter, Reuters reported. They will be divided equally between Libya's three regions: Tripolitania in the west, Cyrenaica in the east, and Fezzan in the south.

Since political parties have been banned from fielding candidates in the vote, all of the 692 hopefuls are standing as individuals, according to AFP. At least six members of the assembly will be women, and 73 ladies are standing to be elected. 

Another six seats are reserved for members of Libya's three main ethnic minority groups - the Berbers, Toubous and Tuareg, AFP reported.

But the two Berber seats will go unfilled as the leading Berber group is boycotting the elections after the interim government failed to guarantee the Berbers having a bigger say in drawing up the new charter. The Berbers played a key role in 2011's uprising, according to AFP.

The U.N. Support Mission in Libya expressed its backing for the "long awaited achievement" of the assembly election.

"It calls upon all Libyans to contribute positively to this democratic process and to provide the suitable atmosphere for this important event that paves the way towards putting the basic foundations for a modern Libyan state," U.N. envoy Tarek Mitri said in a statement, according to AFP.

The interior ministry said at least 25 security personnel would be deployed in each of country's 1,500 or so polling stations on Thursday.

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