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Libya braced for first elections in 40 years

In first democratic election in over 40 years in Libya, 2,500 candidates stand for 200 seats in the General National Congress.

6 July 2012, 12:00am
A Libyan man walks by campaign posters for tomorrow's General National Congress election
Election campaigning is set to end in Libya as the country readies itself for its first free national poll in more than forty years.

The elections will be closely watched around the world by both supporters and critics of Nato's bombing campaign that helped underpin an Arab Spring uprising which ended Gaddafi's dictatorship and finally claimed his life.

As last-minute preparations were underway across the country on Thursday, there remained concerns over the possibility of violence when Libyans finally head to the polls on Saturday.

For many of the 2,8 million registered voters, excitement about a first taste of democracy is mingled with fear that it will be hijacked by armed groups, often with regional loyalties, who have flourished amid prevailing lawlessness.

On Thursday, a fire ravaged a depot containing electoral material in the eastern Libyan city of Ajdabiya, an official of the national electoral commission said on Thursday.

While the election is designed to produce a government with a stronger mandate to rule than the current ex-rebel National Transitional Council (NTC), the credibility of the result will be questionable if voters are too scared to turn out or if post-vote disputes degenerate into gun battles among rival factions.

In some areas, such as the isolated southern district of Kufra in the Saharan desert, tribal clashes are so fierce that election observers will be unable to visit, and some question whether the vote can proceed in certain areas there.

Pro-autonomy leaders in eastern Libya earlier called for a boycott of the election.

They said eastern Libya should be given a larger share of seats in the new 200-member legislature, which is tasked with drawing up a constitution.

The country's electoral law allows 60 seats to be taken by candidates in eastern Libya.

Voters will select a 200-member assembly that will choose a cabinet to replace the self-appointed interim government, represented by the National Transitional Council.

The new chamber will also pick a new prime minister and help draft a constitution aimed at turning Libya into a unified, stable state.

Many of the 2,500 candidates have strong Islamist agendas. Once the country's new constitution is drafted, a referendum will be held and, if it establishes a parliamentary system, a full legislative poll will be held within six months.

Less than a year after rebel fighters overran the capital Tripoli with little resistance, Libya is a country enjoying freedoms that would have been unimaginable during the four decades before the uprising, but which are mitigated by instability and sporadic violence.

While Tripoli can go for days without disturbances, turf wars between heavily-armed rival groups can explode into gunfights within seconds, while regional tensions that were suppressed under Gaddafi are now dangerously exposed.