By Moutaz Ali and Michel Cousins.
Tripoli, 25 June 2014:
The hottest day off the year so far, with temperatures soaring into the . . .[restrict]mid-to-upper 40s, appears to have added to the reluctance of many voters to go out and vote in the elections for the new House of Representatives. Turnout during the day has been sluggish. The heat is being blamed by HNEC, although it is not the only factor.
In Tripoli’s Salahadeen School in Ben Ashour district, election officials said this morning that it had been “busy” so far, with the centre’s manager adding that more voters had turned up at that point than in the February elections for the Constitutional Assembly.
There was certainly a steady stream of people coming to vote, but there were none of the queues – there or anywhere else in the capital – seen during the elections in July 2012 for the General National Congress. Not that anyone would have been willing to queue outside the stations in the oven-like heat.
By 12 noon, just 12.3 percent of the 1,970 registered to vote at the school had done so, fairly accurately reflecting the midday 13 percent turnout nationally.
Over at the polling station at the Qurtuba School in more upmarket Hay Andalus district, the figure was significantly higher. By midday, an official said, 25 percent of the 1,050 registered to vote had cast their ballots. However, when Libya Herald reporters visited, there were few voters around. It was possibly due to the fact that the heat was becoming distinctly uncomfortable – or just that it was lunchtime.
In Suq Al-Juma, with its continuing reputation as a centre of support for revolutionaries and Islamists, but where former Deputy Prime Minister Musrtafa Abushagur is standing, there was by midday a similarly higher than average turnout at the Abdullah Al-Buluq School polling centre: 19 percent. That could be put down to the Tripoli suburb’s continuing reputation as a centre of support for revolutionaries and Islamists – a place with a political axe to grind.
On the other hand, at the polling station at Khawarzmi School in the less affluent Fashloum district but scene of equally strong opposition to Qaddafi during the revolution as Suq Al-Juma, the midday figure was just slightly above the national average: 15.2 percent. But other than staff, the place was deserted. There was hardly a voter to be seen. Again the heat was blamed. Here, polling station staff were not of the view that turnout, while down on the 2012 elections, was up on February Constitutional Assembly poll. It was down on that too, they said.
Turnout in other parts of the country was similarly low in the morning. In Misrata by noon, according to a local HNEC official, 15,960 people had voted – 16.8 percent of the 95,072 registered voters. In Benghazi too, turnout was noticeably slow.
Staff at all polling stations were confident, nonetheless, that voters would turn up in larger numbers later. However, with the Argentina-Nigeria World Cup match starting at 6pm, Libya time, this seemed doubtful. In the cafés in Tripoli, almost all the talk during today was about the match, not about the elections.
One other noticeable sign at the polling stations – and potentially serious in regards to future acceptance of the results – was a distinct lack of younger voters today.
Despite the fact that at one fashionable beachside café in Hay Andalus in the early afternoon it could be seen that all the customers had inked fingers, showing they had already voted, virtually all voters seen by this paper’s reporters in the polling stations during the morning and early afternoon were either middle aged or elderly. “Almost all the voters here today are between 35 and 55 years of age”, bemoaned one voter in at Suq Al-Juma’s Abdulla Al-Baluq School.