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Apathy, security fears overshadow Libya vote

© MAHMUD TURKIA / AFP

Video by Marine CASALIS

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-02-20

Libyans are voting Thursday to elect a constituent assembly amid widespread disillusionment with the results of the 2011 revolution which overthrew Col. Muammar Gaddafi.

Just over a million voters have registered for Thursday’s election, the second since Gaddafi’s rise and fall.

The contrast between the euphoria and optimism that marked the 2012 national assembly elections and the disenchantment over the 2014 poll has been stark.

In 2012, more than 2.7 million of the 3.4 million eligible voters registered. Amid widespread voter apathy and several deadline extensions, only 1.1 million Libyans registered to vote in Thursday’s poll.

“Three years after the revolution, Libyans are very disappointed,” explained FRANCE 24’s Marine Casalis, reporting from the capital of Tripoli. “It doesn’t necessarily mean they want the former regime back, but that they’re deeply concerned about the lack of security and the weaknesses of the authorities.”

The General National Congress that was elected in 2012 has been trapped in a gridlock between the Alliance of National Forces and the Muslim Brotherhood.

The transitional parliament’s term was set to expire on February 7, 2014, but was extended until new elections set for June this year.

The process of drafting a new constitution too has been beset by delays and hurdles. A constituent assembly vote was originally scheduled for 2012, but was postponed due to differences over the makeup of the body – primarily in the eastern province of Cyrenaica, where federalists have been pushing for greater autonomy of the oil-rich region, locally known as Barqa.

Sharia, centralism or federalism top the agenda

Power devolution among Libya’s three regions is one of the key issues that the new 60-member constituent assembly will have to confront once it is elected. Residents of Libya’s eastern and southern provinces complain of vast distances they have to travel to address even the smallest bureaucratic task – a remnant of Gaddafi’s excessively centralised state.

“The new constitution will have to determine the shape of the new regime, whether the state of Libya will be centralised or decentralised,” said Casalis.

“Another key issue is the place of sharia. Most Libyans want sharia to be part of the constitution. But what will be important to see is whether it is the unique source of legislation or one of the sources of legislation,” she added.

In December, the transitional parliament voted that sharia law be declared “above the constitution,” apparently an attempt to pre-empt any move to declare a secular or civic state.

Security tops Libyan concerns

But by far the most pressing concern for Libya’s nearly 6 million citizens is the deteriorating security situation in a country awash with arms, militias and tribal groupings fighting for control of border posts and lucrative smuggling routes.

In the lead-up to Thursday’s vote, tensions have been rising as powerful militia groups have been battling to influence the political process. Over the past week, two militia groups have demanded that parliament dissolve itself or face the arrest of its members.

“The authorities have barely any control of the territory,” said Casalis. “Even in the capital, in October, the prime minister, Ali Zeidan, was kidnapped in Tripoli. We also saw fighting between militias in the very heart of the capital. The authorities have even less control in the rest of the territory – especially in the South and the East.”

Unlike the 2012 campaign season, there was little campaigning or excitement ahead of Thursday’s vote.

In principle, all of the 692 hopefuls for the 60-member constituent assembly are standing as individuals, as political parties have been barred from fielding candidates.

They include 73 women. The assembly will have at least six women members as six seats are reserved for women.

Another six seats are reserved for members of Libya's three main ethnic minority groups -- the Berbers, Tubus and Tuareg.

The new assembly is to present a draft for a new constitution within four months, a deadline most Libyans fear will not be met.

Once a draft constitution has been framed, the text must be approved by the new transitional parliament after which, the constitution must be approved in a referendum.

Date created : 2014-02-20

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