Libyans vote for new parliament in test for transition

TRIPOLI, June 25 Tue Jun 24, 2014 8:00pm EDT

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TRIPOLI, June 25 (Reuters) - Libyans vote for a new parliament on Wednesday, an election officials hope will ease the chaos that has gripped the OPEC oil producer since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi three years ago.

Marking another step in its transition after decades of one-man rule, Libya is set to hold the vote as the North African country is slipping deeper into turmoil after a renegade former army general launched a campaign against Islamist militants in the east.

The country badly needs a functioning government and parliament to impose authority over heavily armed former rebels, militias and tribes that helped oust Gaddafi, but who now defy state authority, carving out fiefdoms.

Libya is also struggling with a budget crisis as a wave of protests at oilfields and shipping ports by armed militias making demands has reduced oil production, the country's lifeline, to a trickle.

Tripoli's partners in the West hope the vote will give a push to rebuilding a viable state as well as to bridging divisions between the country's western regions, once favoured by Gaddafi, and the neglected east, where many demand autonomy and a greater share of the nation's oil wealth.

Western powers also worry that conflicts between militias and tribes will push Libya deeper into turmoil as its nascent army, still in training, is no match for fighters hardened during the eight-month uprising against Gaddafi.

In another division of a country with several power centers, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, rooted in rural western coastal cities, is vying with tribal areas in both the west and east for control of the oil producer.

Many Libyans fear the vote will produce just another interim assembly. A special body to draft a new national constitution has still not finished its work, leaving questions over what kind of political system Libya will eventually adopt.

To discourage political infighting between parties, which paralyzed decision-making and led to a crisis over two rival prime ministers in May, candidates must run as independents rather than as party representatives.

Opening polling stations in Benghazi and other parts of the east may be a challenge with forces of renegade general Khalifa Haftar clashing with militant Islamists almost daily as he seeks to clear them from the city.

LOW TURNOUT?

Participation is widely expected to be lower than in 2012. Around 1.5 million voters have registered, roughly half of the 2.8 million registered in July 2012 in Libya's first free election in more than 40 years.

Electoral authorities tightened registration rules by requiring voters to show a national identification number. Many Libyans do not have such documents since security concerns and political chaos have hampered basic state services.

The new parliament will again be made up of 200 seats, but will be called the House of Representatives, replacing the current General National Congress (GNC), which is linked by many Libyans to the country's stalemate.

Thirty-two seats in the new parliament are allocated for women.

Around 1,600 candidates will be on the ballot, or about a thousand less than in the previous parliamentary vote. Some candidates put up street posters or platforms on social media, but given the short time frame since the vote was announced, there has been no real campaigning.

The vote will also be marked by a boycott of the Amazigh, or Berber, a minority that demands a stronger say in the body drafting the new constitution. (Writing by Pat Markey; Editing by G Crosse)

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