Little variety for Libyan votersComment on this story
Abdul-Rahman al-Baazi stands in Tripoli's Old City market area, trying to convince passersby to vote for one of the parties standing in Saturday's elections. Every time someone walks by, he starts to shout “Jibril, Jibril” with the help of three of his friends.
Mahmoud Jibril is a former foreign minister, the first to be appointed during the conflict against forces loyal to the late dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Jibril himself is not running in the National Congress election, but he heads the National Forces Alliance, a coalition of liberal parties and non-profit organisations.
Occasionally, a man or a woman will stop and chat with al-Baazi and his friends, but most continue to go about their business.
“He is a real man,” says al-Baazi, 26, when asked why he supports Jibril's alliance. “He is a civilised, educated person.”
The campaigners work as guards with the Interior Ministry, where they earn around 500 Libyan dinars(about R3200) a month – an amount described by a nearby shopkeeper as “more than enough.”
Strangely, they do not discuss the alliance's political platform or its ideology. They also refuse to discuss any of the other parties – around a 100 of them have been founded since the ruling National Transitional Council issued the electoral law at the beginning of the year.
“We do not know them, so we do not want them,” says al-Baazi's friend, Ali Mabrouk.
There is a sense of hope, enthusiasm and excitement in Tripoli. People are eager to elect the 200-member assembly that will rule the country for around a year, until a new constitution is finalised.
The process is definitely a new experience for Libya, where political parties were banned for decades and political activities were only allowed to boast about Gaddafi's alleged achievements since he seized power in 1969.
“Political awareness is non-existent,” says Abdul-Rahman Al-Ejeili of the Libyan Youth Forum in Tripoli. “But there is great hope for the election, this is what is driving the people.”
Al-Ejeili argues that all candidates “look alike,” and most of the 2.7 million registered voters are opting for well-known candidates. He says the choices confronting voters is between figures from the Muslim Brotherhood, most of whom were exiled under Gaddafi, and anti-Gaddafi rebels who took part last year's conflict.
“There is no clear vision for the future by either the candidates or the voters,” he said.
Ismail, a 30-year-old father of three, supports the Islamist al-Watan party, but does not know much about it.
“The leader of the party is this pious man Belhaj,” he said, referring to Abdul Hakim Belhaj, a former anti-Gaddafi militant and fighter.
Yet, despite denying suggestions that the Muslim Brotherhood's Justice and Construction party is a one man show, most supporters cannot say why they have chosen to back it in Saturday's election.
“There is no clear difference between most parties taking part in the election,” possibly because people have not had enough time to find out the finer details, says Basma Mahmoud, a 35-year-old teacher. However, Mahmoud does expect different political positions to emerge during future debates of the elected National Congress.
With campaigning intensifying ahead of the vote, most candidates only discuss broad concepts like restoring security, rebuilding the army and working together to build a better Libya.
Israa Murabit, who works with the Voice of Libyan Women, a pressure group, has spent the past weeks trying to raise awareness among women voters. But her task has been made any easier by the fact that there is little to distinguish the candidates.
“All (of the election) campaigns are similar, and from talking to women who will vote, their first concern is security, proliferation of arms and controlling the borders,” Murabit says. – Sapa-dpa