Crowds of joyful Libyans, some with tears in their eyes, parted with the legacy of Muammar Gaddafi on July 7 as they voted in the first free national election in 60 years. But in the eastern city of Benghazi, cradle of last year’s uprising and now seeking more autonomy from the interim government, protesters stormed polling stations and burned hundreds of ballot papers. Libyans are choosing a 200-member assembly which will elect a prime minister and cabinet before laying the ground for full parliamentary elections next year under a new constitution.
Candidates with Islamic agendas dominate the field of more than 3,700 hopefuls, suggesting Libya will be the next Arab Spring country – after Egypt and Tunisia – to see religious parties secure a grip on power. In the capital Tripoli, voting was smooth. A loud cry of “Allahu Akbar” (“God is greatest”) went up inside a polling station there as the first woman cast her vote in a converted school building abuzz with the chatter of queuing locals.“I can’t describe the feeling. We paid the price, I have two martyrs in my family. I am certain the future will be good, Libya will be successful,” Zainab Masri, a 50-year-old teacher, said of her first experience of voting.
It is hard to predict the political make-up of the new assembly, but parties and candidates professing an attachment to Islamic values dominate and very few are running on an exclusively secular ticket. The Justice and Construction offshoot of Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood is tipped to do well, as is al-Watan, the party of former CIA detainee and insurgent Abdel Hakim Belhadj.