In a country that has not held an election for nearly half-a-century — not even the sort of sham polls that produce a 90-odd percent vote for the reigning autocrat — national election fever is running high in Libya. On July 7, Libyans will go to the polls in the country’s first free election since the rise and fall of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. The last elections in Libya were held in 1965. Gaddafi, who came to power in a 1969 coup and stayed put for 42 years, did not even bother with the niceties of conducting a rigged referendum. Libyans will vote to elect members to a 200-seat constituent assembly — or transitional parliament — that will write a new constitution and establish a political road map ahead of full-blown parliamentary elections scheduled for 2013.
Logistical problems — including a massive list of would-be candidates who had to be vetted — forced Libyan election authorities to postpone the transitional parliament vote from June 19 to July 7. But neither the delay, nor the lack of election experience, nor the widespread dissatisfaction with the interim administration’s track record have dampened most Libyans’ enthusiasm for the start of the national democratic process.
By the end of June, approximately 2.7 million Libyans — or 80% of eligible voters — had signed up to vote, according to statistics released by the High National Election Commission (HNEC). A vetting panel called the Commission for Integrity and Patriotism has scrutinized approximately 4,000 candidates, rejecting 320 would-be candidates. The HNEC meanwhile disqualified 650 others. While the key factor of the vetting process was filtering out senior Gaddafi loyalists, Libyan officials say the candidates’ human rights track records were also considered. Following the vetting process, some 2,500 people are contesting 120 seats reserved for individual candidates, while over 100 parties will compete for the remaining 80 seats.