Fri, Jun 27, 2014 - Page 7 News List

Deadly attacks, low turnout cast shadow over critical Libyan parliamentary poll


A man on Wednesday shows his ink-stained finger at a polling station in Benghazi, Libya, after voting in the country’s parliamentary election.

Photo: Reuters

A deadly attack on troops, the killing of a rights activist and low turnout marred a parliamentary election that Libyan authorities hope will end the political turmoil rife since the ouster of former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.

Seven soldiers deployed to provide polling day security in Libya’s second city, Benghazi, were killed on Wednesday in an attack security officials say was carried out by Islamist militia and which injured 53 soldiers.

Later in the day, lawyer and human rights activist Salwa Bugaighis was shot dead by unknown assailants at her home in Benghazi, hospital and security sources said.

A former member of the Libyan National Transitional Council, the anti-Qaddafi rebellion’s political wing, Bugaighis was vice president of a preparatory committee for national dialogue in Libya.

The eastern city has been tense since a rogue former rebel commander launched an offensive against powerful Islamist groups late last month, drawing many regular army units to his side.

Libya’s High National Elections Commission was also forced to close 18 polling stations in the western town of al-Jemil after unidentified gunmen attacked five of them and stole ballot boxes, a security official said.

By the time polls closed at 6pm on Wednesday, just 630,000 of the 1.5 million registered voters had cast their ballot in a 47 percent turnout, according to preliminary estimates by the commission.

The number of registered voters itself is a far cry from the more than 2.7 million who signed up two years ago for Libya’s first-ever free election. Almost 3.5 million citizens are eligible to vote.

In the past few weeks, the country has been rocked by a crisis that sees two rival Cabinets jostling for power in a crippling showdown between Islamists and liberals, as violence rages in the east.

A patchwork of militias, including Islamic extremists, who helped oust Qaddafi in the NATO-backed uprising, are blamed for the violence that has continued since then.

“These are the last chance elections. We are placing much hope in the future parliament to restore the security and stability of our country,” Amr Baiou, 32, said as he exited a polling station in Tripoli.

No voting was held in the eastern town of Derna, a jihadist stronghold, for fear of attacks on polling stations. In the south, just five out 15 polling stations opened in the Kufra region for “security reasons,” the commission said.

Interim Libyan Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani said the election was “proceeding normally.”

The heavily armed rebels who ousted and killed Qaddafi have carved out fiefdoms in the deeply tribal country, with some seizing oil terminals and crippling crude exports from a key sector.

The Libyan General National Congress, or parliament, has served as the country’s highest political authority since the revolt. It was elected in the July 2012 polls, but has been mired in controversy and accused of hogging power, with successive governments saying its role as the executive and legislative authority has tied their hands in taming militias.

Voters are choosing from 1,628 candidates vying for seats in the 200-strong parliament, with the first results expected today or tomorrow.

“We are voting so as not to repeat the mistakes of the past,” pensioner Salah al-Thabet said after casting his ballot in Tripoli. “We voted in the first elections just to vote. This time I have really researched the candidates, and I voted for the right people.

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