Libya elections: Do any of the parties have a plan?

Electoral campaign posters hang from a building under construction on 4 July 2012 in the Libyan capital Tripoli Fresh faces, but will they bring change?

Defaced posters, challenging songs and a bewildering number of political options face Libyans preparing to vote in their first elections in the post-Gaddafi era.

But as the country teeters on the edge of change, many still appear unsure if Saturday's poll will make or break the country.

In many neighbourhoods in Tripoli, almost anything with a surface where a poster can be placed is covered with election material.

Start Quote

Sami Serraj

I sometimes joke with my friends that it's like watching someone's hair grow - you don't see it happen while it's happening but if you go away and come back, you see the changes”

End Quote Sami Serraj Businessman

For Sami Serraj, a Tripoli-born Libyan businessman who describes himself as a musician at heart, there is as much hope as there are frustrations and worries.

He has composed a song for Libya's first free elections called What Kind of Free Will We Be?

The challenges they face are laid bare in the lyrics, when he asks in every verse: "How do you fix a country?".

The question it paired with catchy phrases on everything that needs fixing - from guns and mentalities, to justice and peace.

Mr Serraj has lived much of his life in the US, like many Libyans who chose self-imposed exile because they felt hopeless or feared reprisals for political dissent.

He moved back to Libya, leaving some of his family behind, after Muammar Gaddafi was toppled and killed last October.

"I selfishly wanted to experience free Libya… it's been more amazing than frustrating, but I'm aware of all the challenges that are surrounding us," he says.

"I'm also very inspired by most Libyans."

Mr Serraj plans to stay and keep working for the future.

"I sometimes joke with my friends that it's like watching someone's hair grow - you don't see it happen while it's happening but if you go away and come back, you see the changes."

Bullet-ridden office

More than 2,000 candidates are standing for election to the General National Congress (GNC) - the legislative body which will replace the National Transitional Council (NTC), which led the campaign against Col Gaddafi.

Libyan elections

  • 2.8 million registered voters from around 3-3.5 million eligible (45% women)
  • 2,639 individual candidates (competing for 120 seats in 69 constituencies)
  • 374 party lists from more than 100 political entities (competing for 80 party seats in 20 constituencies)
  • 559 women registered for party seats (44%)
  • 88 women registered for individual seats (3%)

Source: The UN and the Libyan Electoral High Commission (HNEC)

Most people in Tripoli if asked will say they are looking forward to casting their vote for the first time, but few understand the implications and most remain undecided about whom to vote for in their constituencies.

Postponed from June, candidates have had just a little more than two weeks to campaign and it has been a largely dull and confusing process for potential voters.

Mahmoud Ramadan's office lies in a building across a blackened fence from the burning fumes of rubbish in Abu Slim District, which saw a lot of fighting in the dying days of the conflict.

A wind chime on his balcony gently plays with the hot summer breeze; its soft tune belies the harsh reminders of a war that was still being fought just a year ago.

"There was a big hole in that corner, I covered it with plaster after I rented this place last year, I think it was from an anti-aircraft bullet," says Mr Ramadan, pointing to the uncovered pock-marked ceiling of the balcony.

There are 84 candidates vying for two seats in Abu Slim alone.

Majdah al-Fallah (L) and Hannan Bachir, candidates for the Justice and Construction Party walk past defaced campaign posters in Tripoli Many female candidates' posters have been defaced

Mr Ramadan, a slightly pudgy, softly spoken university professor with an infectious smile hopes he will win a seat under the banner "with education, nations rise and progress".

He printed flyers on shiny paper with "Imsaquiya" - a timetable of when to break fast in the holy month of Ramadan - on one side, and his face and goals on the other.

"I was kind of mischievous," he saying, squinting his eyes.

"Ramadan is coming very soon and since I'm a professor in agriculture - I hate to see all this paper get wasted.

"Instead of someone looking at it and throwing it away, if he doesn't like my face then he just turn it around, then he has Imsaquiya."

Many point to Abu Slim as an area where the late Col Gaddafi still has many supporters.

Mr Ramadan's acting campaign manager Mohamed Mansour says he met a disgruntled owner of a printing shop who ranted about how he was not going to vote and he was "not happy with all of this".

But Mr Ramadan is a firm believer in the appeal of fundamental needs.

"I think everybody will love to have education… we are talking about some really basic items for any country, any regime, any time," he says.

'Did nothing'

Start Quote

We have put ourselves forward to be judged through a transparent ballot box”

End Quote Mohamed Sawan Leader, Justice and Construction

This is also a time for women. Even if, for some, their faces in campaign posters end up being neatly cut out, apparently by a mysterious group of extremely religious men roaming the streets.

Libyans are united in a desire to leave behind the past.

But there are calls in the east of the country by some for a boycott as they demand a redistribution of seats allocated to regions in the 200-member constituent assembly.

They are fearful of being marginalised as they were for decades under Col Gaddafi's rule. But in Benghazi, the cradle of the uprising, many more are eagerly awaiting to cast their ballots.

Businessman and political activist Mohamed Busseir, whose roots lie in Benghazi and is a proponent of federalism, wanted a constitution to be drawn up before Libyans elect the General National Congress, another interim body.

He agrees with a commonly held view on the current transitional authorities: "In those few months, in the field of security they did nothing… in reorganising the government, they did nothing, in economical development, they did nothing."

He fears the elections are an elaborate plan to legitimise key rulers.

"The head of every government organisation in Libya [now] is run by the Muslim Brotherhood and they are running in the elections with more than one party, and with independent names."

'God willing'

The biggest political party emerging, Justice and Construction, is mostly made up of Muslim Brotherhood members.

A member of the Justice and Construction Party, the political arm of the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood, hands out brochures of his party candidates to people during their election campaign in a suburb of Tripoli, 4 July 2012 Many Libyans are still undecided about who to vote for

The party leader, Mohamed Sawan who hails from the western town of Misrata and was jailed for many years and released in 2006, says his party is independent from the Muslim Brotherhood and is open to anyone who supports its ideals.

He dismisses claims that the Muslim Brotherhood members are secretly trying to rule everything as "misinformation".

"Since we have put ourselves forward to be judged through a transparent ballot box… such statements are a retreat in democracy," he says.

There are countless political parties taking part in the elections pledging security, jobs and development.

What is glaringly absent is a plan - none of them appear to have a set strategy.

This is arguably a time when the local mantra "Inshallah kheir" (God willing it will be OK) - used for every issue, dispute or conflict - simply will not cut it for a people and nation striving to rise from beneath the debris of war and a dictatorship that left no political, military or civil institutions behind.

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