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Misrata holds first Libyan elections post-Gadhafi

By Maggie Michael

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Feb. 20 2012 12:10 p.m. MST

"The (city) council was not up to the level of what the city accomplished during the revolution," said Abdel-Basit Boum Zariq, the deputy head of the city's human rights commission.

At one school where voters cast their ballots, the smell of fresh paint wafted through the halls. Gamela al-Tohami, the school director, waved her purple ink-stained finger which has become the universal sign for voting across the Middle East. She said Gadhafi forces shelled the school during the fighting and only recently holes in the walls that had been used by snipers had been refilled.

"This is the first time we have seen real democracy in my entire life. Before we were being monitored and terrorized," she said.

Even before Gadhafi came to power in September 1969, elections were widely rigged.

During Gadhafi's era, the closest thing to democracy were elections held for local bodies called "people's committees" but the vote was generally regarded as a farce to rubber-stamp regime candidates.

As Gadhafi's control began to disintegrate last year, councils composed of judges, lawyers and businessmen were formed in cities around the country. But many council members were members of the old regime with little legitimacy.

After the fighting died down in Misrata, many residents grew angry at what they said was corruption among the council members. Tarek bin Hameda, one candidate running for city council, said the outgoing council was not transparent.

He alleged that aid sent to the city council for local associations was not fairly distributed.

"The council head was part of the old regime, and he works with the same Gadhafi mentality. The mechanism was the same and that led the street to explode," bin Hameda said. "The youth want new blood."

None of the outgoing council members were available for comment. Al-Kabir, the political commentator, attributed part of their problems to inexperience.

The candidates in Misrata have mostly focused their platforms on general themes such as improving education, security and health care.

"The priority in my program is to build the human being before building the state," bin Hameda said.

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