By George Grant
Benghazi, 19 May:
In the city’s first taste of democracy ahead of nationwide elections next month, Benghazi went to the polls today to elect a new Local Council.
Voting took place to select 41 council members across 11 districts, with more than 400 candidates standing for election.
At one polling station visited by the Libya Herald in district 8, Al-Qish and Al-Fuwaihat, the number of voters had reached almost 1,600 by 2pm, out of a possible 3,250 registered to vote. With polls not closing until 10pm, Faisa Sallak, the station’s coordinator, described turnout as “excellent”, a sentiment echoed by voters and officials alike across Benghazi.
Sallak reported no problems of potential voter fraud or insecurity, and voting seems to have passed off peacefully across the city.
One voter was Mariam Al-Asmad, 63, who was celebrating voting for the first time in her life. When asked by the Libya Herald who she had voted for, she replied, “people of integrity”, although she could not remember their names.
Indeed, lack of candidate recognition seems to have been one of the most serious problems with these elections. With so many candidates, each with only a limited opportunity to present his or her manifesto to the voting public, the majority of people in Benghazi seems to have voted instead for people they knew, or those whose picture they had seen most often around the city. That the candidate was a man or woman of integrity seems to have been the most important criteria for voters.
One candidate for the elections, Dr Adel Almansouri, criticised the Benghazi Electoral Commission for not clarifying the rules for candidate campaigning early enough.
“The fact that nobody knows who we are is a big problem”, he said. “For a long time, we didn’t know when the elections would be, if we would be allowed media coverage, how we could legally campaign and so forth. Obviously we wanted to follow the rules, but the electoral commission did not publish what those rules would be until about a week ago, and frankly, that was too late. I only got my billboards up four days ago”.
However, the head of Benghazi’s electoral commission, Suleiman Zubi, was quick to reject these allegations. “The guidelines for candidate campaigning were drawn up in strict accordance with international standards, and this was made known to each of the candidates well in advance.”
“We did not create these rules”, he added, “they are known all over the world”.
The results of today’s elections are expected to be announced on Sunday evening.