Libya holds municipal elections in first vote since five years

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Libya held rare municipal elections in nine communities on Saturday, although turnout in the country’s first voting since five years reached only about 38 percent.

The North African state, which has been mired in conflict and chaos since the 2011 toppling of Muammar Gaddafi, has not held any elections since 2014, when a heavily contested national vote ended up splitting the country into rival administrations and parliaments.

Only nine out of 69 municipal councils in southern and western Libya voted on Saturday, officials said. No violence or sabotage was reported.

Libya created 120 municipal councils in 2013 in a bid to end 42 years of centralization and one man rule under Gaddafi. Some councils held elections in 2014.

The municipal board of each council includes seven members, which then elects a mayor.

“We’ll go on each Saturday until 33 councils hold their elections then we resume after the holy month of Ramadan so all councils are elected,” Salem Bentahia, head of the elections commission, told Reuters.

The Muslim fasting month of Ramadan ends in early June.

In Zuwara, a town west of Tripoli near the Tunisian border, there was a modest turnout in the morning.

“We wish every success to this board and for it to achieve all the aspirations of this city’s residents in all areas,” Abdulsalam Ramdan Abdulsalam said as he cast his vote.

The United Nations is holding a national conference in April in a bid to end the political conflict between the internationally recognized government in Tripoli in the west of Libya and a parallel administration version in the east.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Saturday that there are signs that Libya’s two rival leaders may for the first time solve a key dispute over control of the army.

The United Nations has been trying to broker a power sharing agreement between Khalifa Haftar, a commander controlling eastern Libya allied to a parallel government, and the internationally-recognized Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, based in Tripoli.

One key obstacle has been whether Haftar can head a unified Libyan army under civilian command, which would form part of a new national government.

“We see signs that the contradictions that you have noted could possibly be overcome for the first time,” Guterres told reporters when asked whether the two leaders could reach an agreement on the question of civilian army command.

He spoke after a meeting with officials of the Arab League, European Union and African Union ahead of an Arab leaders’ summit in Tunis on Sunday.

The UN efforts aim to prepare the country for long-delayed national elections.

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