Campaigning for Libya's first national election in a generation has kicked off ahead of July 7 polls to choose an national assembly which will re-draw the autocratic system of rule put in place by ousted leader Muammar Gaddafi.
In a statement published on its website on Monday, Libya's electoral commission said that candidates will have 18 days to campaign, from June 18 until July 5, with 2,501 independents and 1,206 political association candidates eligible to stand.
Candidates are being fielded from 142 political associations, the commission said, in polls due to be held 18 days later than originally planned because of the logistical challenges in a country still recovering from last year's revolt.
Eighty of the assembly's 200 seats will go to political parties and the rest to independent candidates.
The assembly's job will be to oversee the government, draft a new constitution and schedule a new round of elections.
Libyans began registering for the election in May and around 2.7 million people, or about 80 per cent of eligible voters, have put their names down to participate.
The country is currently governed by the National Transitional Council (NTC), an unelected body of civic and tribal leaders and Gaddafi opponents which is recognised internationally as the country's legitimate leadership.
Once the newly elected assembly holds its first session, the NTC is due to step down.
Nuri al-Abbar, head of the electoral commission, urged candidates "to conduct an honorable competition and live up to their responsibilities".
Campaign guidelines published by the electoral commission called on candidates to avoid conducts that foster the outbreak of conflicts between voters, hurt national unity and sow discrimination or hatred.
Candidates are obliged to disclose how their campaign was financed.
During his 42-year rule, Gaddafi banned direct elections, saying they were bourgeois and anti-democratic.
Ian Martin, the United Nations envoy for Libya, told AFP news agency that the new timetable for the elections was doable and called the delay a "wise" move as it would give voters more time to familiarise themselves with the candidates.
"It is still tight but our electoral team ... believes this is a feasible timetable," he said. "It doesn't have to be a perfect election but it is a much needed election."
Martin said UN advisers were counselling the interior ministry on its security planning for the first national election since the 2011 popular uprising toppled Gaddafi's regime.
"In a post-conflict situation it would be unrealistic to think that there would be no security problems at all, but I am very encouraged by the fact that there were no serious security incidents around voter registration," he said.
"Once there are competing candidates the mood can heat up a bit, but I believe that the capacity is there to address security problems if they arise."
He said that the new authorities have shown considerable capacity in mediating clashes, even though the nascent army remains weak and dependent on brigades of former rebels to help settle conflicts.
Renewed gunbattles raged in northwest Libya on Monday between fighters who supported the revolution and former Gaddafi loyalists, killing at least 60 people, local medical sources said.
On Sunday, Libyan troops arrived in the mountanous area near Zintan to impose a ceasefire, as fighting spilled into a seventh day.
Other clashes this month centred on the southern city of Kufra and in the Nafusa mountain region west of the capital, Tripoli.
Libya has also witnessed a series of attacks on Western targets in recent weeks, mostly in the eastern city of Benghazi, cradle of the 2011 revolt.
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|Timothy V. Gatto|