Hurdles Slow Post-Gadhafi Elections In Libya

Libya's transitional government has postponed the country's first post-revolutionary elections. The ballot was originally scheduled for June 18, but will now be held in the first week of July. The government remains far behind on preparations for the vote, and there are serious regional rifts that some fear could lead to violence. Steve Inskeep talks to Audie Cornish.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Neighboring Libya is also preparing for elections, a vote for an assembly charged with writing a constitution. Compared to many other parts of the Arab world, Libya's voters are largely affluent, well-educated and totally new to democratic politics. The overwhelming majority of Libya's people were born after Moammar Gadhafi came to power in 1969. Now, new political parties are preparing to compete for 200 assembly seats.

MORNING EDITION's Steve Inskeep has traveled across the whole length of Libya, part of a road trip through nations of the Arab Spring, and he joins me now. Hi there, Steve.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Hi, Audie.

CORNISH: So to start, how much political activity did you actually see as you were traveling around the country?

INSKEEP: Not much of the traditional kind, even though there's supposed to be elections in a few weeks, you don't see campaign posters, at least not yet. You don't see campaign rallies. News websites are reporting voter registration up around 2.7 million people, which is a decent number in a country with a population of six million. But you don't see any speeches, and, in fact, we met a candidate for office in an eastern Libyan city called Derna, who said he was waiting for permission to start. Instead, the elections were delayed into July. But with that said, people are doing some prep work.

CORNISH: So what do you mean by prep work? I can't imagine how you sort of build an infrastructure of campaigning.

INSKEEP: And there is nothing here. There are no political parties. There are no party traditions to pick up on, and so people are assembling parties from scratch. And early this month in Tripoli, we saw this gigantic press conference in one of these oversized international hotels for a party called the Watan Party or Homeland Party. It seemed very well financed.

They had thick press kits, professionally done logo and a trained candidate, it seems, trained political leaders on stage who basically avoided all the tough questions. So they seemed to be getting ready to contest this in a professional way. And they're one of dozens of political parties that have started up in recent months.

CORNISH: But if they're ducking the questions, and this is whole process is new, I mean, how do voters know what their platforms are, what the issues are?

INSKEEP: You know, it is hard to figure that out, and it's hard to figure out who's serious, who really has any political support, because there's no baseline. There's no background here. With this Watan Party - I mean, I talked with a politician who's been involved with this party who said everybody in Libya wants Shariah Law, Islamic law.

There are politicians such as Abdul Hakim Belhadj who's a man who fought on the side of the Taliban in Afghanistan. He was a leading figure in that party. There are other parties that are taking more moderate perspectives, but it is hard at this point to say who really has a lot of support.

CORNISH: And what sense do you have about the level of committed to the democratic process generally?

INSKEEP: I think there's a lot of interest in the democratic process. I was at a religious university in a city called Zliten in coastal Libya a few days ago talking with students. And these 21-, 22-year-old young men got into a debate. One of the students is deeply religious, and he's favoring the Freedom and Development Party, which is the party basically of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist party.

The other student is also deeply religious. He's a religious student, but he seemed more open-minded and favored the party of Mahmoud Jibril. That's a former Gadhafi era official who went over to the rebels, became a kind of public face of the revolution and is a little more moderate. The student felt he was a little more inclusive.

People are enthused in that way. But at the same time, Audie, when we were in Benghazi, Libya, there was an Islamist political rally, a demonstration, to which people brought massive weapons. It was basically a demonstration staged by brigades from the Revolution. Men brought pickup trucks with anti-aircraft guns welded to the backs. They brought their Kalashnikov rifles and pistols and machine guns. And even their commander admitted to us afterward this is not really appropriate to be bringing guns to a political rally. So people still have things to learn here.

CORNISH: Now, we've been talking about Libya, but we should say that you've actually just arrived in Cairo, right?

INSKEEP: That's correct. We're now getting ready to watch the presidential election here, which is scheduled for this weekend. And people in Cairo can hardly talk about anything else.

CORNISH: Well, Steve, thank you for giving us the update on Libya.

INSKEEP: Delighted to do it, Audie.

CORNISH: NPR's Steve Inskeep. And you can hear more about his travels tomorrow on MORNING EDITION.

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