Libya votes

Libyans are on Saturday voting in their first and free national election in 60 years.

Libyan women voting in Tripoli on 7 July 2012. AFP

TRIPOLI/BENGHAZI - Libyans will choose 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 footholds in power after last year's uprisings.

But the credibility of the vote will be wrecked if armed militia with regional or tribal loyalties discourages voters from turning out, or if disputes over the outcome degenerate into pitched battles between rival factions.

The greatest threat comes from the eastern region around the city of Benghazi, cradle of the NATO-backed uprising that ousted Gaddafi nearly a year ago but which complains of neglect by the interim government in Tripoli in the west.

Yet early voting there was calm and many ignored calls to boycott the election in protest that the east has been allotted only 60 seats in the assembly compared to 102 for the west.


On Friday, armed groups in the east shut off Libya's oil exports to press their demands for greater representation in the new national assembly.

At least three major oil-exporting terminals were affected.

Port agents said the oil depots closures would last 48 hours, but the government sent a team on Saturday to negotiate a full reopening of a sector that provides most of Libya's revenues.

In the latest attack on election authorities in the east, a helicopter carrying voting material had to make an emergency landing near Benghazi on Friday after being struck by anti-aircraft fire.

One person on board was killed.

"There is no security in this country," complained Emad El-Sayih, deputy head of the High National Election Commission.

In Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte, a former fishing village on the southern rim of the Mediterranean Sea, the mood ahead of the polls was restrained, with some saying they would not vote.

"They should take care of us first, look at our homes," said Abed Mohammed, a resident of District Two neighbourhood which saw some of the heaviest fighting and where Gaddafi was believed to have hidden before being captured and killed.

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 Islamic insurgent Abdel Hakim Belhadj.

Polls close at 8pm (SA time), but meaningful partial results are not due until Sunday.