Libya election: Count under way after historic vote

BBC News reports: Vote-counting is under way after Libya held its first free national election for 60 years on Saturday.

The first results are expected on Monday, with some unofficial exit polls suggesting a liberal alliance was doing better than Islamist parties.

Sunday has been declared a holiday, amid celebrations after a largely peaceful election with a 60% turnout.

The 200-member assembly will choose the first elected government since Col Gaddafi came to power in 1969.

On voting day there were pockets of unrest in the east, where there are fears the region will be under-represented in the new temporary assembly being elected.

Reuters reports: Swept up in the euphoria of Libya’s first free national vote in six decades, voters in the eastern city of Benghazi braved anti-election protests on Saturday to pour into polling stations.

But the mood of celebration should not fool anyone: in the city that was the cradle of last year’s uprising against Muammar Gaddafi and remains the hub of Libya’s lucrative oil sector, the revolution is far from over yet.

Long a political hotbed that nurtured earlier attempts to unseat Gaddafi, Benghazi is now the focal point of a widespread sense among easterners that post-Gaddafi authorities are still neglecting their region economically and socially.

Many queuing to cast their ballots in Benghazi said they were using their votes simply to back candidates in a new interim assembly whose main policy drive will be to demand greater political representation for the region.

“We were able to get rid of the regime of Muammar Gaddafi with all his power and resources,” local women’s rights activist Salwa Homi said of the insurgency which, with the help of NATO bombs, ended 42 years of hardline Gaddafi rule.

“Don’t you think we can do the same to a few people we’ve elected ourselves?”

Nearly 18 months ago, the arrest of human rights activist Fethi Tarbel sparked a riot in Benghazi that triggered a civil war, the fall of Tripoli 1,000 km (630 miles) to the west and ultimately the capture and killing of Gaddafi himself.

The immediate bone of contention now is the fact that the east will get only 60 out of 200 seats in the new assembly being voted in on Saturday and which will appoint a new prime minister and prepare the ground for parliamentary elections in 2013.

But the bigger issue is what status Libya’s second-largest city will have in the new country taking shape and what stake it will have in national oil supplies currently running at 1.6 million barrels a day – the bulk of which are in the east.

“We contributed the most blood and the most sacrifice to the country and to the revolution,” Hamed al-Hassi, a former rebel who leads a military body originally charged with securing the east but which has since fallen out with the interim government.

“The country will be in a state of paralysis because no one in the government is listening to us,” said Hassi.

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