Libya Votes for Parliament Amid Erosion of Government Authority

Libyans cast ballots for a new parliament in the latest attempt to stabilize a country where the government has been increasingly powerless to halt the spread of violent clashes between armed groups.

The OPEC member is electing a 200-seat legislature weeks after forces loyal to renegade General Khalifa Haftar stormed the parliament, suspending its operations. Haftar is engaged in a self-authorized campaign to crush armed Islamist groups in the oil-rich east.

The vote may help to determine who will prevail in a power struggle among rival militias, the central government and Islamists that has plunged the country into chaos three years after the ouster and killing of Muammar Qaddafi.

“It’s a failed state already,” Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai, said in a phone interview. The conflicts among tribes, regions, militias and Islamic extremists “have made the country, in and of itself, ungovernable.”

Polls closed at 8 p.m. local time today, in a vote held against a backdrop of near-daily violence, assassination attempts against officials and little progress in drafting a new constitution. The chaos has halted the recovery of the oil industry, battering the economy and dividing the country into virtual fiefdoms controlled by rival armed groups.

‘Future Leader’

Crude output, about 1.6 million barrels a day before the uprising against Qaddafi, was down to 290,000 barrels as of yesterday, Mohamed Elharari, spokesman for the National Oil Corp., said by phone.

Riccardo Fabiani, a senior analyst with the New York-based Eurasia Group, said a non-Islamist coalition will probably win the election, because many Libyans blame the current chaos on Islamists. That would pave the way for rebel militias in the east and west to negotiate with authorities on reopening blockaded oil terminals, Fabiani said in an e-mailed report.

Haftar, who defected from Qaddafi’s army, could be the main beneficiary if the new parliament isn’t dominated by Islamists as it has been over the past two years, and may emerge as “the future leader of Libya,” said Karasik.

More than 1,700 candidates are vying to serve in the new legislature, where 32 seats have been reserved for women. About 1.5 million people registered to vote, compared with more than 2 million who signed up to cast ballots in 2012, when Libya held elections for the first time in more than four decades.

Voters ‘Depressed’

Many voters are “depressed and don’t trust the candidates,” said Mohamed Ben Ramadan, head of polling stations in Tripoli’s Souq al-Jumaa district. “I don’t think we’ll ever have the same wedding we enjoyed the first time,” he said in an interview, referring to the festive atmosphere surrounding the 2012 vote.

Seventeen polling stations didn’t open in the eastern port city of Derna because of security threats, according to the electoral commission. Polling in Benghazi, also in the east “was going very well,” parliament member Asmaa Sriba said.

The outgoing parliament had chosen Ahmed Maiteg as prime minister, before a court ruling on June 8 annulled his appointment, and delayed the formation of a new cabinet. Maiteg’s predecessor stepped down from the post after an attack on his home.

“Because of the rivalries between the parties before and the different groups, we’re facing a disaster,” voter Um Kalthoum al-Madani, 48, said in an interview outside a central Tripoli polling station.

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