TRIPOLI: Libyans vote on Saturday for a constituent assembly, the first body elected since the ouster of dictator Moamer Kadhafi, tasked with steering the country through its critical transition.
"All fundamental questions have to be decided by this elected group of 200 people," Sami Zaptia, managing editor of Libya Herald, told.
"It is very important. You don't write a constitution every day," he added.
To be chosen is the General National Congress, which will appoint a new interim government and a panel to draft a new constitution for the oil-rich North African nation.
Once the assembly holds its first session, the ruling National Transitional Council (NTC), which has run Libya since Kadhafi's ouster and death last year, must step down.
Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, head of a European Union observer mission, said the vote, which was postponed from June 19 for technical reasons, marks a historic opportunity.
"This election is the first opportunity for Libyans to choose their representatives in national polls after decades," he said.
"It marks a historic step for the country and its people. Given the vital role the General National Congress has in appointing the body to draft the constitution ... the election is crucial."
Libya has not seen elections since the era of late monarch King Idris, whom Kadhafi deposed in a bloodless coup in 1969, making this vote a new experience for many in a country with a mostly young population.
More than 2.7 million people, or around 80 percent of the eligible electorate, has registered to take part in the landmark poll.
More than 4,000 people sought to run as candidates. But the electoral commission only approved 2,501 independents and 1,206 party candidates after an intensive vetting process designed to keep out former regime remnants.
And dozens of political associations, the majority of them listing democracy and a respect for Islamic law as core values, have emerged in the Muslim country where parties were long banned as a construct of the West.
A total of 120 seats are reserved for independents, with the remaining 80 open to political entities. But some parties are said also to be fielding individual candidates in the hope of bagging more seats.
"Some political parties have joined forces with independent candidates in order to beef up their possible representation in the national assembly," said Claudia Gazzini, Libya analyst at the International Crisis Group.
But the outcome of the vote, she said, is likely to reflect local interests more than fixed ideologies, since the majority of seats are going to independent candidates pandering to the sensibilities of small districts.
The country has been divided into 72 constituencies. In some, voters will cast a vote for both party and individual candidates; in others, they will only have a choice of one or the other.
There are 629 women running. They are well represented on party lists, which alternate male and female candidates, but make up only 3.4 percent of the individual candidates.