Libyans are set to head to the polls Saturday to take part in what is meant to be a step forward in the transitional period of the past eight months, since the announcement of the liberation of the country by the US and NATO-backed National Transitional Council (NTC) on 23 October 2011. Voting for Libyans abroad already started Tuesday.

However, the political scene leading up to the elections remains rife with challenges, following the end of Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year long despotic rule.

Campaigning nonetheless kicked off across the country 18 June, for what is set to be the first national elections in almost 50 years. The projected outcome will be a parliament tasked with selecting a new prime minister, cabinet, and drafting a constitution, following the same path as Tunisia and Egypt, although hopefully without the same troubles they experienced.

The Libyan transitional parliament will be tasked with scheduling a new round of elections, following the drafting of the constitution and it being put to public referendum.

Electoral makeup

Libya’s electoral commission, the High National Election Commission (HNEC), is managing the process in which 120 seats of the 200-member parliamentary assembly will be alloted to independent candidates, while the remaining 80 seats are reserved for political parties.

Approximately 2,500 hopefuls are set to contest the independent seats while 100 parties are running in the party lists section.

According to HNEC, approximately 80 per cent of eligible voters have registered to vote in the upcoming elections.

A long process of elimination preceeded the vote, with the Commission for Integrity and Patriotism disqualifing 4,000 candidates while HNEC disqualified an additional 650 others. Most those affected were disqualified in an attempt to filter out Gaddafi loyalists.

This process was one of the main reasons given for the delay in the elections, originally scheduled for 19 June, along with some logistical concerns having to do with the unpreparedness of different election centres across the country.

Key players

The Islamist Justice and Construction Party (JCP), Hizb Al-Adala wa Al-Bina, modelled on Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, has fielded 73 candidates. While not as powerful as the Egyptian branch, especially outside of Benghazi, it is nevertheless expected to be the biggest player in the elections.

The party’s members were largely discriminated against under Gaddafi — many facing imprisonment and execution. Many were pushed into exile as a result. Mohamed Sawan, who had faced eight years in jail, was named head of the party in March 2012.

Also carrying an Islamist tint is the Nation Party (Al-Watan), fielding 59 candidates, making it the second largest political grouping following the JCP. The party head is set to be announced following the elections. The party has reportedly been the best publicised around Libya and has Abdel Hakim Belhaj as a prominent candidate.

A former leader in the now-defunct Libyan Islamic Fighters Group, Belhaj filed a lawsuit against the UK government in 2004 for his abduction based on his group’s link to Al-Qaeda. He was abducted in Thailand and sent back to Libya through the act of political rendition.

The Liberal National Forces Alliance (NFA), Tahaluf Al-Quwah Al-Wataniya, is fielding 70 candidates. While it is an umbrella coalition made up of 58 political parties, it will be running in the elections as a single body.

Mahmoud Jibril, the NTC’s chairman and interim prime minister is heading the coalition.

Others running include the Islamist National Gathering for Freedom, the Justice and Development Party (Al-Tajaamu Al-Watani min ajl Al-hurriya wal Adala wal Tanmiya); the Islamist Centre Nation Party (Hizb Al-Ummah Al-Wasat); the National Front Party (Hizb Al-Jabha Al-Wataniya); the Union for the Homeland (Al-Ittihad min Ajl Al-Watan) and the Nationalist Summit Party (Hizb Al-Qimmah).