BEIRUT

Middle East

Libya extends voter registration amid boycott call

Nouri al-Abbar, chairman of the Electoral Commission of Libya's National Congress, updates the press on the upcoming elections in Tripoli on May 13, 2012. (AFP PHOTO/MAHMUD TURKIA)

TRIPOLI: Libya has extended the deadline for voters to register for national elections by a week to spur more participation amid calls for a boycott by a self-styled autonomous council in the east and threats of similar action by Tripoli civic activists.

The free election, set to be take place on June 19, will be a novelty for Libyans as it will be the first since the fall in a popular uprising last year of Muammar Gaddafi, who banned the ballot box during his maverick 42-year dictatorship.

The vote for the national assembly will play a central role in allocating power among competing regions and tribes and pave the way for a new constitution, although shaky security has raised concern for the viability of the election.

Libyans began registering to vote on May 1 and so far more than 1.5 million people have put their name down to take part, according to the electoral commission.

"We have decided to extend the period of registration for voters by a week, until May 21," Nuri Al-Abbar, head of the High National Electoral Commission, told a news conference on Sunday. He said the decision would not affect the timing of the vote.

Abbar said women represented around 38 percent of registered voters so far. The electoral body estimates a total 3.4 million potential voters out of a population of 6 million people.

Registration in the east was going "normally, as expected", according to Abbar, despite a call by a self-styled autonomous council for people in the region to boycott the election.

The Council of Cyrenaica, which wants autonomy for the eastern region around the city of Benghazi, said earlier this month the vote should be shunned as it would not give adequate representation to the east.

Activists in Tripoli have called for several amendments to the electoral process, saying they were unhappy with the ratio of political parties versus independents in the assembly and the distribution of electoral districts in the capital.

"We will call for a boycott of the elections in the event of the failure to respond to our rights and our legitimate demands," according to a statement signed by Civil Society Tripoli, which groups non-governmental groups there.

In the assembly, 80 of the 200 seats will go to political parties and the rest to independent candidates.

There is a risk that a lack of security could jeopardise the polls. The interim government is struggling to assert its authority over dozens of militias who take orders only from their commanders and refuse to disarm.

Last week, one person was killed and several injured when militiamen protesting outside the prime minister's office started shooting.

 

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