By George Grant.
Benghazi, 7 July:
Jubilant Benghazi electors cast their votes today amidst continued federalist disruption that has seen seven polling centres in the city closed.
This morning federalists broke into a school containing voting materials off Dubai Street and made a bonfire of them as more than 100 demonstrators chanted anti-election slogans.
Polling stations at Afrikiya, Al-Ikhlas, Lamluda, Beit Saamer, Bushnafi, Al-Karamah and Ibrahim Baker were also closed.
“We have the right to attack things”, said one of the protesters. “We have been protesting for three months and nobody has been listening to us, not the NTC, not anybody”.
Many of those participating in the rally were armed with makeshift weapons including iron bars and clubs, as well as blades and small arms. One young girl who cannot have been older than 10 was seen carrying a large hunting knife.
“We took the election boxes because we believe the Muslim Brotherhood want to take this election by force, said Mohammed Ali, one of the men who stole voting materials earlier today. “There are 23 television stations just caring about the Muslim Brotherhood. Nobody cares about us”.
At one polling station off Pepsi Street in Benghazi’s Fuwayhat district, sustained gunfire broke out at one point just a few hundred metres away, although the shots seem to have been directed in the air.
Civilians who had come to the station to vote quickly gathered to form a human shield, blocking the street in anticipation of an attack.
“We are standing against all those seeking to destroy these elections”, said Yusef Marsi, one of the men in the human shield. “We are just civilians, but we need all people to participate and stop this violence”.
In spite of a brief delay when guards rushed people inside once the firing broke out, voting at the polling station itself carried on regardless. “We are determined to make this election a success”, said one female voter. “We are not going to let the federalists stop us”.
Down at a polling station in Al-Khansa, elections proceeded without incident. “We anticipate a turnout of around 60-70 per cent”, said Mohammed Al-Khansa, the station’s coordinator. “People are turning up in large numbers and we expect things to get busier as the day goes on”.
Here again, the mood amongst voters was a mixture of jubilation and defiance, with the actions of federalists over the past few days a recurring theme.
“I couldn’t vote in the local council elections, so this is my first time voting, and it feels really amazing”, said Adi Zintani, a student at the European school in Benghazi. “But I’m angry with the federalists. If they want something, they should ask for it peacefully, and then perhaps people will listen. Violence doesn’t solve anything”.
Mohammed Bin-Naser, a voter working at a local printing company, said he had reduced prices for printing election materials after so many candidates’ posters had been torn down by federalists.
“One candidate had to come back to us three times because his posters kept on being destroyed”, Bin-Naser said. “We reduced the prices for posters, and even printed them for free in some cases. We have been working day and night”.
Less than 24 hours after a volunteer with the HNEC was killed following an attack on the helicopter in which he was travelling, the young man’s family have appeared on television to say that they are holding federalist leaders including Ahmed Zubair and Abdul Jawad Al-Bedein responsible.
Ziad Edghim, another federalist leader, made a statement in response to the allegations condemning the incident and offering his condolences to the family. He maintained that federalists would seek to stop the elections, but using peaceful means.
In a highly unscientific straw poll carried by the Libya Herald in Benghazi earlier today, predictions that the elections would be dominated by the four big parties, the National Foreces Alliance, the National Front, the Justice and Construction Party and the National Party, seemed to have been accurate.
Of the more than 30 voters surveyed, just one said he would be voting for another party. Amongst the four parties, the National Forces Alliance emerged as a clear favourite, with the Nation Party trailing behind.
Amongst individual candidates standing in the area, the former local election commissioner Suleiman Zubi looked set to top the list.