Tripoli. — Libyans yesterday voted in the country’s first free national elections in over four decades amid violence by federalist protesters who disrupted the vote in several districts.
Polls opened at 8am local time and closed at 8pm as the interim government, represented by the National Transitional Council (NTC), declared election day and today national public holidays for voters to exercise their civic duty.
On Friday, a helicopter carrying election material from Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi was shot at in mid-flight, fatally wounding a member of Libya’s High National
Election Committee (HNEC) logistics team on board.
“The helicopter was on its way from our warehouse in Benghazi to Tukara when it was hit by small arms fire. One young member of the logistics team was hit and the helicopter landed at Benina airport where he was taken to hospital,” Loui El Magari of the HNEC told Al Jazeera.
“He died there with many members of logistics team present. The team is back to work now. Nothing can stop us,” El Magari said.
The incident was only the latest in a string of violent eruptions in the run-up to yesterday’s highly anticipated vote.
The 2,8 million registered voters will elect a 200-seat General National Conference (GNC) that will replace the unelected interim government that has ruled the country after the revolution against Libya’s ousted leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Public service commercials on how the voting process works were running on TV to support voters ahead of the elections. A large majority of Libyans will be going to the polls for the first time in their lives.
At the Taquddum School voting station in downtown Tripoli, a long line queued up at the female entrance to the facility, as people sought to beat the midday heat.
“People don’t really know what’s coming, as it’s a first time for everyone,” our correspondent said. “But voters are patiently waiting and excited.”
The 3 700 candidates — 2 500 of whom are independent, the rest belong to political parties — had until Thursday evening to reach out to voters, as the HNEC declared Friday a “cool-off day” ahead of the vote.
On Friday, many Libyans in Tripoli were still undecided about which candidates to support. Some told Al Jazeera they would use the weekend’s family gatherings to make a final decision.
“I have it down to two political parties. I will either vote for Hizb al Watan (National Party) or the Tahalof al Qiwa Al Wataniya (Alliance of National Forces) of former
prime minister Mahmoud] Jibril,” Manal El Miladi, a 23-year-old medical student from Tripoli, told Al Jazeera.
“I will vote for them because of what they wrote in the their campaign programme. For the individual candidate race, I also still need to choose between two candidates.”
Huda Muftah (25), another medical student, said she has made up her mind: “I am voting for the party of Jibril because he is what Libya needs in these times.
“He is a very educated man with good international connections, plus he has a good plan about what we need in the near future — from all sides. So, for me he is the man of this phase,” she said.
The new assembly will appoint a new cabinet and a prime minister, but will not choose the committee that would draft the country’s first constitution.
The key responsibility to appoint the constitutional committee was stripped away from the assembly by NTC decree on Thursday in a last-minute move to appease the eastern protesters who demand more autonomy for their region.
The mood has been tense in Libya’s second city, Benghazi, and other cities and towns in the eastern Cyrenaica region, where federalist groups vowed to boycott and even violently disrupt the vote.
Many residents of eastern Libya feel the distribution of seats in the General National Conference favours the west of the country.
The critics say this is a continuation of the alleged marginalisation of their region that they say started decades ago under Gaddafi’s rule. — Al Jazeera.