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Libya Prepares for First Free Elections After Gadhafi Regime

July 6, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
For the first time in nearly 50 years, Libyans will go to the polls on Saturday to vote for a new parliamentary government. Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News reports on the excitement in that country, nine months after the fall of its last leader, Moammar Gadhafi.
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RAY SUAREZ: Libya will hold its first free election in over 50 years tomorrow, nine months after the death of Moammar Gadhafi. The election for the 200-member transitional parliament comes as the weak security situation enables armed conflicts in some regions.

That hasn’t stopped the mounting excitement, as we see in this report by Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News.

LINDSEY HILSUM: For four decades, only one man’s image was allowed. Now thousands of faces look out from billboards across Libya. It’s almost too much to believe.

Lamia Abusidra is canvassing votes on the corniche in Benghazi. Her party, she says, wants to unite Libyans. It’s led by an Islamist, but she’s something of a liberal.

LAMIA ABUSIDRA, Homeland Party candidate: People that thought that Belhadj’s al-Watan, or the Homeland Party, is an Islamist party were shocked by someone leading the Benghazi list who is unveiled. And that shock made them think more and made a lovely dialogue, a very strong dialogue open in the community.

LINDSEY HILSUM: It’s all a bit confusing.

WOMAN (through translator): Every day, we think we like one candidate. Then, the next day, we see another. I can’t make my decision until Election Day.

LINDSEY HILSUM: None of which means anything to Salem Abushrida. He has no faith that an elected government will rein in the armed men who kidnapped him in Tripoli last week and tortured his son, Abu Saleh, to death. The family supported Gadhafi, but this wasn’t revenge, he says; the murderers simply wanted to steal the family farm.

SALEM ABUSHRIDA, father: For this reason, they killed my son, for this reason try to kill me. For this reason, they are going to kill me again. They will try. I know it.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Democracy won’t curb the militiamen who spearheaded the revolution and now run riot, he says.

SALEM ABUSHRIDA: There is no future, I don’t think. The problem, they destroy the country.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Even in eastern Libya, cradle of the revolution, not everyone supports the election. In fact, they’re sabotaging it. They say western Libya is being given too many parliamentary seats. The east is being neglected, as it was under Gadhafi.

In the eastern town of Derna, I came across a small demonstration of men calling for the boycott. The east deserves more power, they said.

MAHMOUD SALAMA, Libya: The west stole our revolution. We started the revolution here.

LINDSEY HILSUM: So on Saturday, no voting?

MAHMOUD SALAMA: No, on Saturday, no voting.

LINDSEY HILSUM: No voting?

MAHMOUD SALAMA: No voting.

LINDSEY HILSUM: A candidate came by trying to rescue her posters.

ASMA MOHAMMED SWAYZI, candidate (through translator): I’m very sad to see my people with this mentality. Libya is free, but we want an election and a new government. It’s OK. This is freedom, but they shouldn’t tear down posters. We want life to get better. Why damage things? We want to settle down and rebuild the country.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Suddenly, everyone wants a say.

“Anyone with a poster is a traitor,” says one man. “The election is as farce,” says another. “No, it’s freedom,” says a third.

It’s chaos. But think, until last year, no one in Libya was allowed to have any opinions at all.

The line between discussion and disruption is not well understood. Yesterday, suspected eastern federalists burned a warehouse full of ballot boxes and voting slips.

Democracy is very new in Libya, and many still resort to violence if they can’t get their own way. The poll will go ahead on Saturday. But the question is, will Libyans accept the results?

RAY SUAREZ: We have more about Libya on our Web site, including a report on Libyan hopes that peaceful elections will encourage more foreign investment in their oil industry.