With elections underway in Libya, “federalists” demanding a greater share of power in the east of the country are blocking roads and oil terminals to enforce their call for a boycott. A helicopter carrying election materials was shot at, and an official from the High National Electoral Council (HNEC) who had been onboard was killed near Benghazi. Polling stations in Brega and Ajdabiyah were unable to open due to the incident. The federalists are demanding an equal distribution of National Assembly seats between Libya’s three historic provinces of Barqa, Fezzan and Tripolitania. The current allocation of seats gives Tripolitania—where more than half of Libyans live—109 seats in the 200-member body. The three regions appear to be based on the Ottoman-era administrative divisions, with the name Cyrenaica changed to Barqa—probably to de-emphasize Cyrenaica’s status as a self-governing territory at various times in Libya’s history. (See map.)
The family of the slain electoral worker appeared on television to say that they hold federalist leaders responsible. Federalist leader Ziad Edghim issued a statement in response, condemning the incident and offering his condolences to the family. He maintained that federalists would seek to stop the elections, but using peaceful means. However, a group calling itself the Barqa Council has positioned militia forces in the Red Valley area on the outskirts of Sirte, on Barqa’s western borders, erecting roadblocks and halting traffic.
Unarmed protesters are meanwhile occupying the oil terminals at Es-Sider, Ras Lanuf and Brega, virtually shutting down exports. The oilfields of Nafora, Amal and Wantar Chell are also under occupation, bringing production there to a halt. The disruption comes after Libya had brought oil production back up nearly to pre-war levels, with the main Zawiya oil refinery outside Tripoli operating at full capacity. BP has resumed oil exploration work, and oil shipments have been leaving daily to Italy, France, Germany and other countries.
There are 142 parties fielding 1,206 candidates in the election, with 80 out of 200 seats in the assembly allocated to party representatives and the rest to independents. One of the main contenders is the Justice and Construction party, linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. Other prominent parties include former prime minister Mahmoud Jibril’s secular Alliance of National Forces, former jihadist rebel Abdel-Hakim Belhaj‘s al-Watan; and the Qaddafi-era opposition National Front for the Salvation of Libya.
Elhabib Alamin, a well-known poet and official with the Ministry of Culture, had words of warning for Libya’s democratic prospects. “The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq didn’t result in improvements for the people of those countries,” he told Germany’s Deutsche Welle. “I think some leaders here in Libya are trying to get Western backing to become the next Hamid Karzai. I don’t want Libya to become an ATM for Western oil companies while they abandon the people of the country.” (North Africa United, Tripoli Post, Libya Herald, AP, July 7; AlJazeera, Reuters, July 6; The National, UAE, July 5; Algeria ISP, July 3; DW, June 25)