Veteran voter bemused at new Libyan democracy
TRIPOLI (Reuters) - The last time Libyan Nuri Baryun cast a ballot in a general election was nearly half a century ago. He never dreamt it would take him this long to vote again - or be quite so complicated.
Libyans will pick a new temporary assembly on Saturday whose task will be to name a prime minister and prepare for full parliamentary polls in 2013, starting a new era after the uprising last year that ended Muammar Gaddafi's 42-year rule.
It is the North African country's first genuinely free national election in 60 years. The last nationwide poll of any kind was in 1965 - a restrained event under King Idris in which parties were banned and which only the elderly now recall.
"People really looked forward to the elections then," Baryun, 76, told Reuters at his Tripoli home as he prepared to vote. "But we never expected it would take so long to vote again."
The 1965 elections were held after Idris, later ousted by Gaddafi in a 1969 coup, dissolved parliament following polls the previous year in which the opposition had won some seats.
Elections were quieter affairs in those days, Baryun said. The ban on political parties meant campaigning was limited and there were far fewer than the 3,700 candidates now running for 200 seats.
"The candidates would go out and talk to people. They would go to the streets, eat meals together and talk about how they could be of benefit to the people," Baryun said.
"Everyone knew each other then. You were close to your family, your tribe. You knew where people were from. Now, I feel there are some people running here who are not even from my area," said Baryun, a former central bank researcher.
The Kingdom of Libya, as it was then, had a much smaller population than present-day Libya's six million people, of whom 2.7 million have registered to vote on Saturday. All have brand new orange registration cards.
"You did not register for the elections back then. You just went to the voting center and showed them your ID. People would recognize you," Baryun said.
Tripoli was divided into voting areas and Baryun went to cast his vote in a mosque in the Hay Al-Andalus neighborhood.
"There was a large table and a few men sitting around it. They just gave me a paper. We had to put it in one of the two boxes," he said. "That was it."
Baryun said there were two candidates in his Hay Al-Andalus Tripoli district, now wealthier than it was then.
"One, who actually was my teacher, was more educated. He had been abroad and he was closer to the government. But the other one was closer to the people, so I voted for him," he said.
"At the time, all people could talk about was the British and American bases in Libya. I felt that if I did not vote for him, they would sell us to the West."
At the time, both the United States and Britain had military bases in Libya, and more and more Libyans were challenging their presence. The relative tranquillity enjoyed by the monarchy at independence in 1951 was changing as Libyans were caught up in the growing assertiveness of the Arab world.
Few people then owned a television and Baryun, like many others, heard the results on the radio.
"I was disappointed when my candidate didn't win. But later it emerged that the ballot boxes had been tampered with."
Four years after that vote, Gaddafi seized power in a coup. At first those who were unhappy with the king were optimistic about change but their hopes faded as Gaddafi's autocratic ways became more apparent. Gaddafi went on to ban direct elections, saying they were bourgeois and anti-democratic.
Today, many years later, Baryun proudly shows off his new voter registration card and says he is excited about Saturday's poll - a crucial milestone in building Libya's institutions.
"We should build a good government, a good state," he said. "We need someone just, someone who will do well for Libya."
(Editing by Mark John and Tim Pearce)
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