Sunday, September 24

A decade since Gaddafi, Libya’s election raises fears of new violence

Libya’s presidential elections, intended to help unify the nation after a decade of civil war, are supposed to take place in just over a week, but calls for delay are mounting.

Either scenario, holding the vote on time or postponing it, could turn into a destabilizing setback.

The vote, scheduled for December 24, is to elect Libya’s first president since the overthrow and assassination of dictator Muammar Gaddafi more than a decade ago.

For nearly a year, the elections have been the lynchpin of international efforts to bring peace to the oil-rich North African nation, and supporters fear a dangerous vacuum if not held in time.

But critics warn that going ahead with the vote now could lead the country to new violence. They say Libya remains bitterly divided between armed factions that will likely reject any victory by their rivals in the elections. The presence of some of Libya’s most polarizing figures in the race, including one of Gaddafi’s sons, only makes it more explosive.

Almost 100 people have announced their candidacies, but the electoral commission has not yet announced a final list of candidates due to legal disputes. It should have announced the list earlier this month.

The rules governing the elections are also in dispute, with western Libyan politicians accusing the eastern-based parliament of adopting them without consultation.

Libya was thrown into chaos after Gaddafi’s death during a 2011 uprising backed by a US-led NATO military campaign. Control was fragmented among a myriad of armed militias. For years, the country was divided between rival administrations in the east and west, each backed by foreign militias and governments.

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The current political process emerged last year after the latest round of brutal fighting.

In April 2019, the eastern-based military commander, Khalifa Hafter, launched an offensive aimed at capturing the capital Tripoli and overthrowing the UN-recognized government based there. Hafter was backed by Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

Turkey and Qatar responded by stepping up support for the pro-Tripoli militias, supplying them with advanced weapons and providing Syrian troops and mercenaries.

After 14 months of fighting, Hafter’s offense collapsed. After a UN-brokered ceasefire in October 2020, a Libyan faction group called the Political Forum drew up a roadmap that led to the creation of an interim government to rule the country until elections.

“A threat to peace.”

Those calling for a delay in the elections say the mistrust between East and West remains too deep and volatile. The interim government has been unable to unify Libya’s institutions, particularly the military, dismantle militias or ensure the exit of mercenaries and foreign fighters, a UN official said.

“These issues should have been resolved before going to the elections. They need more time and effort to resolve, ”he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

Tarek Mitri, a former UN envoy for Libya, warned that “without unified military forces, elections pose a threat to peace.”

“How can you win the argument in a democratic election when the guns are loaded to the hilt on both sides?” he said.

In a last-minute effort to save the elections, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appointed American diplomat Stephanie Williams, who led the talks that resulted in the October 2020 ceasefire agreement, as his special advisor for Libya.

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Williams met with Libyan officials in Tripoli on Sunday. He called on all parties to respect the “overwhelming demand of the Libyan people to elect their representatives through free, fair and credible elections.” He did not mention the December 24 deadline in his public comments.

The United States and some other members of the international community want the vote to take place. When he resigned on December 8, outgoing UN envoy Jan Kubis said the elections must take place as scheduled, calling them “a critically important step that opens the door to future solutions.”

The polarization surrounding the elections only intensified after both Hafter and Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son and heir apparent of the former dictator, announced their candidacies.

Hafter, touted in the east as a hero, is hated by many in the west of the country.

“The entire western region will fight Hafter … he will never rule Libya,” Islamist Khalid al-Mishri, head of the Tripoli-based Supreme Council of State, said in televised remarks last month.

Saif al-Islam’s offer raised cries of an attempt to return to the days of his father.

“Those who believe in the possibility of Libya returning to the dictatorship era after all these sacrifices are delusional,” said Abdel-Rahman el-Swahili, a lawmaker from Misrata, the western city that was one of the main forces in the rebellion against the United States. Elder Gaddafi.

The prime minister of the interim government, Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, also caused a stir when he announced his candidacy to participate in the race. When he took office, he had promised not to stand for election.

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Many Libyans are skeptical.

“All (the factions) say publicly that they want elections, but in fact, they all worked against it,” said Ramadan al-Zawi, a 29-year-old teacher. “We fool ourselves when we talk about elections when we are still in such an unchanging situation since 2011.”

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