Nervous Libyans Ready For First Taste Of Democracy


Libyans will vote in their first free national poll in more than half a century on Saturday amid fears that violence could taint an election meant to usher in a temporary national assembly and draw a line under Muammar Gaddafi's 42-year autocratic reign.
Voters will select a 200-member assembly that will choose a cabinet to replace the self-appointed interim government and also pick a new prime minister. Many of the 3,700 candidates have strong Islamic agendas.
The chamber was also due to appoint a committee charged with drafting a new constitution. But Libya's transitional rulers announced on Thursday this body would also be elected directly by Libyans - a move one analyst said was a bid to appease federalists that have urged a boycott of Saturday's vote.
The election will be closely watched around the world by both supporters and critics of NATO's bombing campaign that helped underpin an "Arab Spring" uprising that ended Gaddafi's dictatorship and finally claimed his life.
Yet for many of the 2.7 million registered voters, excitement about a first taste of democracy is mingled with fear that it will be hijacked by the militias, often with regional loyalties, who have flourished amid prevailing lawlessness.
"This is a new beginning for us, we are learning democracy," said Tarek Mabrouk, a shopkeeper in Tripoli. "We all hope that it will go well so we can move forward."
Once the new constitution is drafted, a referendum will be held and, if it establishes a parliamentary system, a full legislative poll will be held within six months.
While the election is designed to produce a government with a stronger mandate to rule than the current ex-rebel National Transitional Council (NTC), the credibility of the result will be questionable if voters are too scared to turn out or if post-vote disputes degenerate into gun battles among rival factions.
In some areas, such as the isolated southern district of Kufra in the Saharan desert, tribal clashes are so fierce that election observers will be unable to visit, and some question whether the vote can proceed in certain areas there.

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