Libyans Cast Ballots for Committee to Draft New Constitution

Libyans headed to the polls to elect a committee to draft a new constitution, a milestone in the nation’s post-revolution transition that’s been marred by a key minority group’s boycott and low voter registration.

More than two years after former leader Muammar Qaddafi was deposed and killed, about 53,000 police and soldiers deployed across the country to secure 1,576 main polling stations and thousands of smaller ones, according to the High National Elections Commission.

Even before polls opened, the process appeared headed for trouble. Only about 1 million voters in the country of 6 million registered to cast ballots, about a third of the 2.8 million who registered for 2012 parliamentary elections. In addition, Libya’s ethnic Amazigh, or Berbers, are boycotting the process and aren’t fielding candidates among the 649 contenders.

The low registration reflected the electorate’s weariness of escalating violence by militias challenging the central government’s authority, plunging oil output, high unemployment and an economy still struggling to rebound years after Qaddafi’s exit.

“We were hoping for, at least, the same number of Libyans who registered last time,” Nuri Al Abbar, the HNEC’s head, said in an interview in Tripoli. “People are frustrated with the entire political process and its results.”

Just this week, one militia demanded that lawmakers cede power or face arrest. While it didn’t carry out the threat, the threat wasn’t carried out, parliament speaker Nuri Busahmein denounced it as an attack on the state’s legitimacy.

More Inclusive

The commission is being elected after the parliament, under pressure from Libya’s vying militias, concluded the constitution must be drafted under a more inclusive process.

The Amazigh and other minority groups, including the Tabu and Tuareg, are boycotting the vote because they want the panel to vote by consensus, not by majority, on Libya’s official languages, flag and identity, to ensure they are represented in the new charter.

The commission is to include six women and six representatives of minorities. Initial results are due within 10 days, with final results slated to be released about 12 days later, according to Al Abbar.

To contact the reporters on this story: Mariam Sami in Tripoli at msami2@bloomberg.net; Saleh Sarrar in Tripoli at ssarar@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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