Libyans hold historic vote amid tensions

Tripoli, Libya – Libyans are voting in the country’s first free national elections in over four decades amid violence by federalist protesters who disrupted the vote in several districts.

Polls opened at 8am local time on Saturday and will close at 8pm (1800 GMT) as the interim government, represented by the National Transitional Council (NTC), declared election day and Sunday national public holidays for voters to exercise their civic duty.

Acts of sabotage, mostly in the east of the country, prevented 101 polling stations from opening on Saturday, the electoral commission’s chairman said.

“Ninety-four percent of polling stations opened,” Nuri al-Abbar told reporters in Tripoli, with voting underway in 1,453 out of 1,554 centres.

“Some of the polling stations were not opened. Because of security reasons, logistical materials haven’t reached them,” he said.

On Friday, a helicopter carrying election material from Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi was shot at in mid-flight, fatally wounding a member of Libya’s High National Election Committee (HNEC) logistics team onboard.

The 2.8 million registered voters will elect a 200-seat General National Conference (GNC) that will replace the unelected interim government that has ruled the country after the revolution against Libya’s ousted leader Muammar Gaddafi.

At a press conference on Saturday night, Ian Martin, UN special envoy to Libya, said that he did not think the minor clashes and glitches weren’t enough to damage the credibility of the poll.

“I think we can see already that the problems are in a small enough proportion of the polling centres, that it is not going to undermine the overall credibility of the election,” said Martin.

Voters undecided

The 3,700 candidates – 2,500 of whom are independent, the rest belongs to political parties – had until Thursday evening to reach out to voters, as the HNEC declared Friday a “cool-off day” ahead of the vote.

On Friday, many Libyans in Tripoli had been undecided about which candidates to support. Some told Al Jazeera they would use the weekend’s family gatherings to make a final decision.

In-depth coverage during the vote for General National Congress

“I have it down to two political parties. I will either vote for Hizb al Watan [National Party] or the Tahalof al Qiwa Al Wataniya [Alliance of National Forces] of [former prime minister Mahmoud] Jibril,” Manal El Miladi, a 23-year-old medical student from Tripoli, told Al Jazeera.

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