Campaigning has started last week in Libya as the first direct elections since former leader Muammar Gaddafi assumed power over 40 years ago are set to take place on July 7. Gaddafi had banned direct elections under his rule, calling them “bourgeois” and “undemocratic”. Libyans will vote in a 200-member General National Congress that will be tasked with overseeing the government, drafting a constitution and overseeing new executive and legislative elections.
The ruling National Transitional Council, an unelected body of influential tribe elders and prominent anti- Gaddafi figures will dissolve itself as soon as the GNC is elected. The NTC had presented a 20-month plan for transitioning to democracy after declaring the country “liberated” following Gaddafi’s death at the hands of rebels. The plan included the elections of and handing of power to a GNC within eight months. Eighty of the GNC seats will be allocated to candidates from political associations (parties and groups) and the rest will be reserved for independents. There are 142 political associations fielding 1,206 candidates and 2,501 candidates running for independent seats.
Around 2.7 million Libyans have registered to vote, over 80 percent of those eligible. The elections were originally set to take place on June 19 but were postponed for logistical and administrative issues according to Nuri Al-Abbar, president of the Libyan electoral commission. Al-Abbar said that the delay would give more time for voters to register and for disqualified candidates to appeal.
Candidates now have eleven days, until July 5, to campaign. Guidelines for campaigning published by the electoral commission urge candidates not to employ tactics that would lead to violence between voters or hurt national unity. Libya has been marred with violent clashes over the past few months. Gun battles resumed last Monday in the northwest between revolutionary fighters and Gaddafi loyalists, killing about 60 people Al Jazeera reported.
Last week Libyan troops imposed a ceasefire in the mountainous area near Zintan after a week of fighting. There have been repeated attacks in Benghazi as well. The major issue that is likely to be contested in the upcoming elections and continues to dominate Libyan politics is that of federalism. Several oil-rich eastern provinces wish to be granted autonomy while western Libyans prefer a Tripoli-based strong central government. Some eastern provinces are calling for a completely independent eastern Libya with a Benghazi capital. The issue has been one of bigger causes of violence over the past few months.