TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Libya’s first election in more than half a century will take place 18 days later than planned because of the logistical challenges in a country still recovering from last year’s revolt, the electoral commission said on Sunday.
The election, for an assembly which will re-draw the autocratic system of rule put in place by ousted leader Muammar Gaddafi, will now take place on July 7 instead of the previous date of June 19.
“We never planned on postponing the election, we worked hard for the election to be on time,” Nuri al-Abbar, head of the electoral commission, told a news conference.
“I don’t want to blame anybody for the postponement, I just want to make sure the elections are transparent.”
He said that crucial pieces of preparation for the election – including voter registration and vetting candidates to make sure they had no links to Gaddafi – had run over schedule, making it impossible to hold the vote on the planned date.
He said the commission had only started its duties in February, giving it only a short time to prepare the polls.
The election will be a milestone for Libya as it seeks to build democratic institutions after last year’s “Arab Spring” revolt. But those aspirations have come up against the reality of organizing a major logistical exercise in a country with no functioning bureaucracy, poor security, and only a distant memory of holding nationwide elections.
During his 42-year rule, Gaddafi banned direct elections, saying they were bourgeois and anti-democratic. The last time Libya held a multi-party national election was in 1952, under the reign of King Idris.
The election set for next month is for a national assembly whose job it will be to oversee the government, draft a new constitution and schedule a new round of polls.
The United Nations said the new date would “enable essential preparations to be completed prior to voting”.
“What has been achieved so far is admirable, especially in the context of an extremely tight timetable and major operational challenges,” Ian Martin, head of the U.N. mission in Libya, said in a statement. “I am confident of the commitment of the election commission and all authorities to see an early and successful conclusion of this electoral process.”
At the moment Libya is governed by the National Transitional Council, an unelected body of civic and tribal leaders and Gaddafi opponents which is recognized internationally as the country’s legitimate leadership.
Libyans began registering for the election in May and around 2.7 million people, or about 80 percent of eligible voters, have put their names down to participate.
In the assembly, 80 of the 200 seats will go to political parties and the rest to independent candidates.
Dozens of new parties have sprung up offering a diverse mix of democratic, Islamist, free market and nationalist agendas. Islamists, in particular, are expected to perform well in Libya, a socially-conservative country.