, TRIPOLI, Jun 25 – Libyans go to the polls on Wednesday for a general election seen as crucial for the future of a country hit by months of political chaos and growing unrest.
Over the past few weeks, Libya has been rocked by a crisis that saw two rival cabinets jostling for power while violence raged in the east, where a rogue general is battling Islamists.
Jihadists and other militias who helped topple dictator Muammar Gaddafi in the NATO-backed uprising of 2011 have been blamed for violence that has continued unabated since the end of the revolt.
The heavily armed rebels that ousted Gaddafi have carved out their own fiefdoms in the deeply tribal country, some even seizing oil terminals and crippling crude exports from a sector key to government revenues.
Commentators have warned violence could scupper the vote, but the authorities are confident it will go ahead without disruption.
There are hopes a new General National Congress, or parliament, will work to resolve the power struggle between liberals and Islamists that has stymied efforts to reform Libya and brought it to its knees. READ: Libya to go to polls June 25 as planned.
The GNC, which has served as Libya’s highest political authority since Gaddafi ouster, was elected in July 2012, in the country’s first ever free polls.
But it has been mired in controversy and accused of hogging power, with successive governments complaining its role as both executive and legislative authority has tied their hands in taming militias.
The crisis came to a head in February when the assembly, whose term had been due to expire, decided to prolong its mandate until December.
That sparked street protests and forced lawmakers to announce the election.
Almost 3.5 million Libyans are eligible to vote but only 1.5 million have registered, a far cry from the more than 2.7 million who registered two years ago.
Voters will choose from among 1,628 candidates, with 32 seats in the 200-strong GNC reserved for women and would-be MPs banned from belonging to any political party.