Thursday, July 05, 2012

Elections

In 34 hours the polls will open for the first free elections in Libya's history.  More than 80% of Libya's eligible voters registered in May to prepare for this election, when two hundred representatives will be selected from more than three thousand candidates to form the body that will draft Libya's first democratic constitution and determine how future elected governments will be formed.  Tripoli is covered with political ads, affixed to walls, covering road signs, streaming from cars, and scattered around every office and store.  Parties are forbidden from campaigning after 8 AM tomorrow, so tonight is the final push to win over voters.

This election process has not been without hiccups, as is any campaign in countries grown weary of biannual contests between familiar candidates.  The fact that this is the first election in more than forty-five years in Libya, and only the second election ever here, makes the achievements even more impressive.  There are concerns, of course: concerns about persistent intercommunal violence in southern and western Libya, concerns that threatened boycotts in eastern cities will undermine the legitimacy of the election, concerns that challenges and appeals of vote tallies will drag out the final announcements of the results.  Then there's the overwhelming concern that this election is only the start of a much more challenging process: the challenge of building healthy, stable democratic institutions in a country that has never known them.  But the enthusiasm I've seen since my arrival here in Libya is humbling and infectious.

When I was growing up, my parents would always take me with them to vote and would let me pull the levers for their selected candidates in the voting machines.  I was first able to vote in a local referendum, on whether to raise the millage for our local school district.  I was one of 250 voters on the issue, and by God was I proud of it!  I try to catch every election that I can, no matter how small the issue, but I must admit that it's hard to keep abreast of local issues when I live overseas most of the time, especially given the time delays in international mail that affect absentee voting.  In Libya, though, what will happen Saturday is something that thousands of people died for, very recently and very nearby.  I've already written about the ever-present reminders in Tripoli of the war dead, of the the rebels and the wounded.  Saturday's election is one of the first steps in justifying their deaths: life without Gadhafi is sweet, but a country cannot remain in a post-dictatorial euphoria forever.  The hardest steps are ahead, in honoring the memory those who died under Gadhafi's capricious rule and in the struggle to overthrow him by building a new Libya.

Two days ago I went to the opening ceremony for the international media center hosted by the entity that organized the elections.  The beautiful facilities are in a convention center by the Rixos Hotel, where journalists were held virtual hostage during the war.  The convention center itself was only used once, having been purpose-built by Gadhafi for a November 2010 European Union-African Union summit.  Now it's to be the home of international and local media outlets covering the elections, the site from which the election commission will announce results and hold press conferences throughout the day.  Upstairs from the media center is the hall where the national congress will be seated in a few weeks' time.  It's still under construction now - risers were being hammered together even as we visited, and  workers busily welded the podium from which speakers could address the congress.

Overseas voters started voting three days ago in select locations.  During the opening ceremony at the media center, we watched videos of the first voters in Germany and Jordan and the UAE placing their votes into the ballot boxes, surrounded by media and cheering Libyans.  In fewer than two years from Gadhafi's EU-AU summit, the center he built as an egotistical show of wealth houses two symbols of the new Libya: a center for the enthusiastic press corps that has developed in Libya and the future home of Libya's first truly representative body.

I will be out and about on Saturday, visiting polling stations as an accredited elections observer.  This is the reason I wanted an assignment in Libya over all others - to be here for this historic event, to witness the rebirth of Libya as a democratic state, and to cheer for the brave Libyan people, who have waited so long for this day.

3 comments:

  1. Keep posting. And BE SAFE! I am proud beyond words.

    ILyB

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  2. Will be glued to computer tomorrow. I wish Mimi and Gail could be here to see you. ILyB

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  3. What an exciting time to be in Libya! Hope all goes well with the elections and that they succeed in building a stable democracy. It won't be easy but there's hope...

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