Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Libyans living abroad went to the polls on Saturday in legislative elections scheduled to begin on Wednesday inside the country, with 22 election centers in 13 countries opening their doors to voters.
In this second vote to be held since late leader Muammar Gaddafi was ousted in 2011, Libyans are electing members to the new Council of Representatives, which will replace the now essentially defunct General National Congress.
In an increasingly chaotic political environment and with militias having overrun much of the country, observers are concerns that this poll will do little to turn around Libya’s near-failed democratic experiment.
But the head of the Higher Elections Commission, Imad Al-Sayeh, rejected doubts about Tripoli’s ability to organize the election, saying he was confident they would be successful despite the problems facing the country.
Sayeh said the commission “completed its final preparations for the elections and that 1,601 election centers around the country have been prepared.”
While he admitted that it would be difficult for the government to open polling stations in the east and south of the country, he said there were positive indications that the elections would go ahead even in the eastern city of Benghazi, where daily clashes are taking place between forces loyal to renegade retired general Khalifa Haftar and extremist Islamists.
The Higher Elections Commission has imposed strict measures to ensure the security of the polls, notably requiring Libyans to present their national identification documents to be enrolled on the electoral register.
Most Libyans in the east and south of the country do not have identifying documents issued by the state, as the ongoing security issues in these areas have prevented the state from delivering even basic services.
Meanwhile, the United States has intensified security measures around its diplomatic mission and other interests in Libya.
The US government advised its diplomats to take extra precautions to avoid assault or kidnapping, amid fears militants would seek revenge for the arrest last week of Libyan national Ahmed Abu Khatallah, who is suspected of being behind the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi in 2012.
Libyan sources said “there is a strong possibility that American interests in Libya will be attacked after this operation,” adding that Libyan militias have recently kidnapped a number of diplomats, especially those from Arab countries, in an attempt to exchange them for Libyan prisoners in their countries.
The US mission in Tripoli has a limited number of staff and is led by Ambassador Deborah Jones. The consulate in Benghazi has been closed since the attack in 2012, which killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Abu Khatallah is on the way to the US on board USS New York. He is expected to be questioned by intelligence agents before facing criminal charges of murder, possession of arms, and providing financial aid to terrorists in a US court.