Published on 7 Jul 2012 Sections ,

Who are the main contenders in Libya’s election?

As Libyans take to the polls for the first time in more than half a century, Channel 4 News looks at some of the 130 political parties standing for election.

Who are the main contenders in Libya's election? (R)

The 2.8 million people voting in Libya‘s first free election after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi face an overwhelming choice when they take to the polls on Saturday: almost 4,000 candidates are standing for election to the 200-strong General National Congress, which will replace the interim National Transitional Congress (NTC).

The assembly will be made up of 120 independent candidates – for which there are around 2,600 contenders – and 80 candidates from political parties, for which there are currently around 1,200 candidates that have been put forward by 130 political parties.

For each of the country’s 73 constituencies, George Grant points out in the Libyan Herald that voters will have an average of 34 candidates each to choose from.

The numbers alone suggest Libyans are enthusiastically grabbing democracy with both hands. But building a society in the aftermath of a dictator and revolution is never quite so straightforward. There have been eruptions of violence in recent months, much of which has been directed at the ballot box and election posters themselves – perhaps a sign of frustration at the current power vacuum, but also about what could replace it.

Analysts and pollsters are reluctant to put forward predictions about winners and losers, such is the confusion about what differentiates the many parties and independents. But four parties appear to be coming out on top.

Federalism in Libya
“That’s how it is in eastern Libya – those who want to disrupt the election and those who are participating seem to understand each other,” blogs International Editor Lindsey Hilsum. “The federalists think that the east should have autonomy from Tripoli. The rest say it should remain united with the west but have more power. Most easterners I’ve met say the distribution of parliamentary seats is unfair – they should have more than the 60 they have been allocated, because the east was neglected under Gaddafi, and with government centralised in Tripoli, history is repeating itself.”

Who are the main contenders in Libya's election? (R)

Nation Party / Hizb Al-Wattan

Libya’s al-Wattan party is back by some high profile Islamists and led by the former rebel militia leader Abdel Hakim Belhadj, who waged an insurgency against Gaddafi in the 1990s while he was leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), Its purple banners line the streets of Libya and it is thought to have the backing of many former revolutionary fighters.

Despite Belhadj’s leadership, the party has put forward a women in the premier position in Benghazi [see photo left]. And not only is she female, but Lamia Busidra appears in public without a veil and is a professor of engineering.

National Forces Alliance

This coalition is made up of around 60 liberal parties and has the support of Libya’s overseas voters. It is led by Mahmoud Jibril, who served as prime minister under the NTC during the revolution, and before that, served in government under Gaddafi.

Despite being made up of many different groups, the National Forces Alliance is standing in the election as one political entity and is putting forward 70 candidates. Although he leads this umbrella group, Jibril is not himself running for the national assembly.

Read more from International Editor Lindsey Hilsum: Militias threaten Libya’s post-election future

Who are the main contenders in Libya's election? (R)

National Front Party / Hizb Al-Jabha Al-Wataniya

The al-Jabha party [poster pictured right] is the only one that can say it was opposed to Gaddafi from the time it was set up in 1981, and is hoping to capitalise on being the most established pro-democracy force in Libyan politics. Led by the intellectual dissident Mohammaed al-Magriaf, it is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood and is putting forward 45 candidates for election.

Justice and Construction Party

This party is the political branch of Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood, and has modelled itself on its Egyptian counterpart. It is putting forward 73 candidates under its recognisable brown horse banner, and is headed up by Mohammed Sawan, a former political prisoner under Gaddafi.

The Muslim Brotherhood was officially banned under Gaddafi, and the group is hoping that the success of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s presidential candidate, Muhammed Mursi, is a promising indicator of its popularity.

Other parties

The Salafi Islamist group, al-Asala, is towards the more religious ends of the spectrum – so much so that is prefers to be called a ‘gathering’, believing political parties are un-Islamic – but it has put forward some female candidates who appear unveiled in election posters. Other significant parties include the Union for Homeland/Al-Ittihad min Ajl Al-Wattan, led by the long-time anti-Qaddafi dissident Abdel Rahman Al-Suwayhili.