A Libyan man casts his vote to elect a constituent assembly at a polling station in the eastern city of Benghazi on February 20, 2014
A Libyan man casts his vote to elect a constituent assembly at a polling station in the eastern city of Benghazi on February 20, 2014 © Abdullah Doma - AFP
A Libyan man casts his vote to elect a constituent assembly at a polling station in the eastern city of Benghazi on February 20, 2014
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Imed Lamloum, AFP
Last updated: February 20, 2014

Libyans in low-key vote for constitution panel

Libyans voted Thursday to elect a panel to draft a new constitution, although a low turnout sullied the latest milestone in the political transition following the overthrow of Moamer Kadhafi.

There was none of the enthusiasm that marked Libya's first free election in July 2012 as public frustration mounts over the weak central government's failure to restore order in the wake of the Arab Spring uprising.

In a vote peppered with incidents in the east and south, turnout was 37 percent an hour and a half before the end of the election, organisers said.

Polling stations closed at 1700 GMT, and officials said counting would last a few hours before the results are delivered to the electoral commission which was to announce them in three or four days.

Despite bad weather, queues in Tripoli grew in the afternoon after a slow start.

Only a third of Libya's 3.4 million eligible voters bothered to register compared with more than 2.7 million 19 months ago -- and that only after several extensions to the deadline.

A threat by powerful former rebel militias to dissolve the interim General National Congress (GNC) elected in the 2012 poll had meanwhile ramped up pressure on the weak central government ahead of the vote.

"I am on the electoral register but I am not going to vote, just because I don't know who to vote for," said Amal, a 21-year-old travel agent.

Khairi Chokwara, 52, said he could not understand his compatriots' lack of interest, as he proudly showed off the indelible ink on his finger that proved he had voted.

"For me, these elections are the most important ones because it's through the new constitution that we will chart our country's future."

The interior ministry said it deployed more than 40,000 police to secure the North African nation's 1,500 polling stations, and the defence ministry said it posted 11,000 troops.

Despite the security measures, gunmen killed the caretaker of a school in the eastern city of Derna that was to be used as a polling station, NGO coordinator Abdelbasset Abu Dhahab told AFP.

Five other polling stations were damaged in overnight bomb attacks in Derna, a hotbed of extremist groups which have carried out repeated attacks on judges and security forces, election officials said.

After polls opened, gunmen forced the closure of a sixth polling station in the town, Abu Dhahab added.

In the capital, a journalist from the privately owned Al-Assema television, known for its anti-Islamist editorial stance, was seriously wounded in a bomb attack on a staff house, a manager at the channel told AFP.

- More than 70 women candidates -

In the more than two years since Kadhafi was captured and killed, former rebel brigades armed with heavy weapons looted from his arsenals have carved out fiefdoms across the sprawling country.

The persistent lawlessness was highlighted by the brief abduction of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan by former rebel militiamen in the capital last October.

The new charter is to cover key issues such as Libya's system of government, the status of ethnic minorities and the role of Islamic sharia law.

Libya plans to go ahead with elections to a new transitional authority rather than wait for the constitution to be finalised.

In principle, all of the 692 hopefuls in Thursday's poll stood as individuals, as political parties were barred from fielding candidates.

The candidates included 73 women, and the assembly will have at least six seats reserved for women.

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

But the two Berber seats will remain vacant as the main Berber organisations called a boycott to protest the failure of the interim authorities to guarantee the community -- which played a major role in the 2011 uprising -- a bigger say in drawing up the new charter.

Election commission head Nuri al-Abbar said voting material could not be delivered to 29 polling stations in the southern Murzuq region because of a protest movement by the local Toubou community.

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