After four decades of an oppressive regime under the rule of dictator Muammar Gaddafi, and even longer rebelling against violence, Libyans this past Saturday were able to partake in their first free elections. Libya plans on selecting a temporary assembly, which will then go into a choosing a cabinet and prime minister. Initial reports indicated that almost 60% of Libya’s registered voters went to the polls. The country’s last national vote took place in 1965. It was a fixed affair in which no political parties were allowed to participate.
“I feel free at last. It’s a feeling I cannot describe: like a human being,” citizen Asmaddin Arifi told the BBC.
Although voting was reported to have gone smoothly overall, there were still isolated incidents in retaliation that were noted. According to Reuters, “one man was shot dead by a security guard on Saturday as he tried to steal a ballot box in the eastern town of Ajdabiya. Another was killed in gunfire in a clash between protesters and backers of the poll in Benghazi, cradle of last year’s uprising.” Contrasting groups joined forces to take down the former dictator, but Libya still remains very much divided along regional lines.
According to Amnesty International, more than 200,000 Libyans are armed and operate outside of the law. The publication of election results could prove to furthermore be a trigger for these armed rival factions to clash.
United States President Barack Obama gave a statement that congratulated the Libyans “for another milestone on their extraordinary transition to democracy.”
“After more than 40 years in which Libya was in the grip of a dictator, today’s historic election underscores that the future of Libya is in the hands of the Libyan people,” the President stated. “…As they begin this new chapter, the Libyan people can count on the continued friendship and support of the United States.”
Member of the European Parliament Alexander Graf Lambsdorff said in an interview, “Whether it be representatives of regional interests, parties or independent candidates, voters can finally send their people to Tripoli to be part of a legitimate, democratically functioning parliament. Emotions are already running high, the tears are flowing. It’s less than a year since the fall of Gaddafi. The country has come exceptionally far in that time, and now we’ll see if the election can stabilize these developments further.”
“Today marks a further milestone towards realizing Libyans’ ambitions for a peaceful, stable, prosperous and democratic country,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague also commented on the momentous event.
Image Source Reuters.com