Joyous, Nervous Libyans Vote For First Time In 40 Years

Libyans were able to do something that some haven’t gotten to do their entire lives: vote. The country held its first elections on Saturday, electing a parliament after the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi last year.

Newser reports that this will be Libya’s first elections in 40 years, and like a lot of social and political changes in the region, it has not been smooth. Some protesters have attempted to stall the vote by attacking polling centers and burning ballots.

The New York Times reports that they found Naema el Gheryiene, 55, fixing a designer veil over her hair as she walked to a polling station in an upscale neighborhood here shortly after a gunman in a passing car sprayed bullets into the air. She stated:

“We will vote for the fatherland whether there is shooting or not. Whoever dies for their country is a martyr, and even if there are explosions, we are going to vote.”

According to The Associated Press, Libyans formed lines outside of polling centers over an hour before they opened in Tripoli, the nation’s capital. They were surrounded by policemen and soldiers, who searched them before they were allowed to enter. Dentist Adam Thabet said as he waited his turn to cast a ballot that:

“I have a strange but beautiful feeling today. We are free at last after years of fear. We knew this day would come, but we were afraid it would take a lot longer.”

Voters are casting their ballots to elect a 200-seat parliament, which will then be tasked with forming a new government. The election is a huge step for the country who is finally free after suffering for 40 years under the rule of Col. Gadhafi. It has been far from easy, notes the AP, ever since Gadhafi was killed by rebel forces in Sirte, his home city, in late October.

Armed militias continue to operate independently in the region, refusing to come under the umbrella of a national army. Also, deepening divisions among regions and tribe have frequently erupted into violence. Despite the erupting violence however, reactions from Libyans show relief at finally being free enough to choose who they want to rule. The AP reports that Riyadh Al-Alagy, a 50-year-old civil servant in Tripoli stood in line for his turn to vote, telling reporters:

“Look at the lines. Everyone came of his and her own free will. I knew this day would come and Gadhafi would not be there forever. He left us a nation with a distorted mind, a police state with no institutions. We want to start from zero.”