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article imagePoor turnout as Libyans vote for constitutional commissioners

By Ken Hanly     Feb 20, 2014 in Politics
Tripoli - Today LIbyans voted for a sixty member commission to draw up a new constitution. Twenty members each will be elected in the three main regions of Libya; Tripolitania in the west, Cyrenaica in the east, and Fezzan in the south.
Turnout was quite poor with less than half a million casting ballots according to the election commission. There were one million registered to vote. In the 2012 parliamentary election for the General National Congress, three million people voted. Live footage of polling stations by TV cameras often showed rooms almost empty. There has not been much fanfare over the election although there are a few billboards in Tripoli. Most of the 649 candidates running are not well known. In a few areas there was violence.
In the Islamist stronghold of Derna in the east, there were explosions at five polling stations before dawn but no one was hurt. Gunmen shouting "voting is haram (forbidden)" forced one polling station to shut down. All Derna polling stations shut down in Derna for security reasons.
The 60 member committee will have 120 days to draft a new constitution. The model for the committee is that used to draft the 1951 constitution when Libya became an independent state. The voting takes place as Prime MInister Ali Zeidan struggles with internal divisions and external threats just a few days after celebrating the third anniversary of the uprising against Gadhaffi. Two powerful militias are demanding the government resign and earlier there was an attempted coup by General Hifter reputed to be the CIA's man in Libya.
The Amazigh, a Berber minority group, that lives in western Libya near oil installations has boycotted the commission as it wants a greater say in the constitution including a guarantee that their language would be one of Libya's official languages. The group has sometimes blocked oil installations to force recognition of their demands.
Western observers are hoping that the vote for the commission will move Libya closer to democracy. However, there is widespread dissatisfaction with the government. After protests, the GNC agreed to move elections for a new transitional government from December to June of this year. The mandate of the GNC ran out early in February and the group had extended it to December.
More about Libya, libyan constitution, General National Congress
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