Libya’s democratic course begins with elections of local councils





Middle East Online
May 19, 2012
By Ibrahim Majbari - BENGHAZI (Libya)

Residents in the eastern city of Benghazi, cradle of the revolt that led to the ouster and death of Libyan leader Moamer Gathafi, headed to the polls Saturday to elect a local council.

"This is a first step in the transition from revolution to state building," Suleiman Zubi, head of the local electoral committee, said.

Benghazi was the birthplace of the February 17, 2011 uprising that put an end to more than four decades of dictatorship in Libya.

"This was long overdue and I am so happy to be living this historic moment," voter Suleiman al-Agury said.

The day was observed as a public holiday and security forces were deployed to all entrances of Benghazi, a journalist said.

The last time the city voted was in 1964 during the reign of King Idris I, whom Gathafi overthrew in a bloodless coup in 1969.

The now-ruling National Transitional Council used Benghazi as its political and military base last year until rebels seized the capital Tripoli in August.

It is now struggling to control militias across the country and to keep its pledge of holding elections for a constituent assembly by June 19.

In the wake of war and weak state institutions, local councils play a vital role in managing the affairs and security of each city.

There are 414 candidates vying for 41 seats in the council of Benghazi. More than 200,000 citizens registered to vote, according to the local electoral committee.

Residents in the east complain that Gathafi's regime neglected them and have raised concerns that the new authorities also fail to take them into account.

A tribal and political faction has emerged clamouring for greater autonomy for the oil-rich east and a return to federalism.

The leaders of that movement have called for a boycott of next month's vote for a 200-seat national assembly.

On Saturday, the movement said it backs Benghazi's poll.

"We are putting our full weight behind this process for the sake of Benghazi, capital of Cyrenaica," said its spokesman Abu Bakr Baira.

Libya was a federal union from 1951 to 1963 under the Western-backed rule of King Idris I, which divided the country into three states -- Cyrenaica in the east, Tripolitania in the west and the Fezzan in the south.

Cyrenaica, which stretches all the way from the Mediterranean coast to the far-flung Sahara desert border with Chad in the south, embraces half of the country's territory and about three-quarters of its vast oil reserves.