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May 29, 2017

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First-time voters in Libya see little diversity among political candidates

Abdul-Rahman al-Baazi stands in Tripoli's Old City market area, trying to convince passersby to vote for one of the parties standing in Saturday's elections. Every time someone walks by, he starts to shout "Jibril, Jibril" with the help of three of his friends.

Mahmoud Jibril is a former foreign minister, the first to be appointed during the conflict against forces loyal to the late dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Jibril himself is not running in the National Congress election, but he heads the National Forces Alliance, a coalition of liberal parties and non-profit organizations.

Occasionally, a man or a woman will stop and chat with al-Baazi and his friends, but most continue to go about their business.

"He is a real man," says al-Baazi, 26, when asked why he supports Jibril's alliance. "He is a civilized, educated person."

The campaigners work as guards with the Interior Ministry, where they earn around 500 Libyan dinars (400 dollars) a month — an amount described by a nearby shopkeeper as "more than enough."

Strangely, they do not discuss the alliance's political platform or its ideology. They also refuse to discuss any of the other parties — around a 100 of them have been founded since the ruling National Transitional Council issued the electoral law at the beginning of the year.

"We do not know them, so we do not want them," says al-Baazi's friend, Ali Mabrouk.

There is a sense of hope, enthusiasm and excitement in Tripoli. People are eager to elect the 200-member assembly that will rule the country for around a year, until a new constitution is finalized.

The process is definitely a new experience for Libya, where political parties were banned for decades and political activities were only allowed to boast about Gadhafi's alleged achievements since he seized power in 1969.

"Political awareness is non-existent," says Abdul-Rahman Al-Ejeili of the Libyan Youth Forum in Tripoli. "But there is great hope for the election, this is what is driving the people."

Al-Ejeili argues that all candidates "look alike," and most of the 2.7 million registered voters are opting for well-known candidates. He says the choices confronting voters is between figures from the Muslim Brotherhood, most of whom were exiled under Gadhafi, and anti-Gadhafi rebels who took part last year's conflict.

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