Sunday, December 5

Libya: credible elections, or another failed bid for nation-building? | Libya

Libya’s hopes of ending a decade of political chaos with credible elections later this year for a president and a new unified parliament have reached a watershed moment, with the United States insisting that the vote should continue, but some diplomats Europeans fear the divisions are too deep-rooted that the outcome will never be accepted as legitimate.

Elections will be held on December 24, but no agreement has been reached in the country on the laws governing the elections. There are also signs that the populist interim government, theoretically appointed by the UN to administer the services before the elections, could seek to capitalize on the impasse to stay in power indefinitely. Thousands of foreign troops, financed mainly by Turkey and Russia, are still in place.

The affair threatens to turn into a failed nation-building episode to sit alongside Afghanistan.

Tarek Megerisi, Libya specialist at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said: “The difficulty is that Libya has lacked political institutions with unquestionable or popular legitimacy since the General National Congress was elected to power in 2012. This creates a political scenario. where the elites in power have felt empowered to shirk their constitutional responsibilities to finalize a new constitution and end the transition period. This means that they are instead focused on fighting for absolute power and looting what were once Libya’s sizable coffers. “

In public, the Western powers are exerting maximum pressure for the elections to take place.

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi di Maio warned that stability throughout the region will be compromised if the elections do not go as planned. Libya’s envoy to the United States, Richard Norland, insists there is no going back from the election date. French President Emmanuel Macron will also host a conference in Paris on November 12 to maintain the momentum of the vote.

The eastern-based Libyan parliament, known as the House of Representatives, is still debating a law to allow parliamentary elections to take place, two months after the initial deadline. However, without a vote, the HoR passed a law, after months of delay, to allow elections for a president on December 24, but the Libyan electoral commission, the body responsible for overseeing the elections, rejected it as inappropriate. the creation of an electoral roll.

The law has also been rejected by the upper house of parliament, the High Council of State, a rival Tripoli-based body heavily influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood. The HCS only wants parliamentary elections to take place, but then a referendum on a constitution to be held prior to the presidential elections.

To increase tension, the HoR last week passed a vote of no confidence in the interim government led by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, accusing his administration of spending 51 billion Libyan dinars ($ 11 billion) in three months without no impact on services. and impose obligations on Libya through agreements with other countries worth 84,000 million dinars more. HoR spokesperson Aguila Saleh ordered the government not to sign any more contracts, but Dbeibah responded to the censure saying that “it was not legal, not constitutional or moral.” At a mass rally in Tripoli on Friday night, he said the HoR was full of obstructionists who only wanted war and destruction.

Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah at the rally in Tripoli on Friday night.
Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah at the rally in Tripoli on Friday night. Photograph: Nada Harib / Reuters

Dbeibah was the surprise election in February to head a UN-backed interim government, but some diplomats believe he is happy to see an election stalemate and is using his office to try to build a popular base to allow him to remain interim. leader if the December 24 elections are delayed. In his Tripoli speech, he highlighted an increase in teachers’ salaries and a gift of £ 5,000 to young singles looking to get married.

But behind the scenes, Western diplomats are weighing alternative plans, fearing that if the elections cannot happen, the process could plummet and, as a result, Turkey and Russia, both with troops in Libya, will take tighter control of the country. oil-rich country.

The international community has two main options if Libyan politicians cannot be persuaded to reach a consensus on the form of the elections.

The most radical is that the UN pressure the interim government to accept or affirm that the UN is authorized by the current resolutions of the security council to impose an electoral law, as demanded by some Libyan politicians.

The second is, in effect, to admit that time has run out, that the elections cannot take place, and instead to adopt an alternative Libyan stabilization initiative proposed by the interim government that would again attempt to create the conditions in the future for the elections go ahead.

That initiative would seek stabilization, a permanent constitution, security sector reform, and reconciliation.

The elections already threaten to turn into a circus. Khalifa Haftar, the head of the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army, announced that he will run for the presidency and said that he will take three months’ leave as head of the LNA.

Khalifa Haftar, head of the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army, had said that he will run for the presidency.
Khalifa Haftar, head of the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army, had said that he will run for the presidency. Photograph: LNA / AFP / Getty Images Division of War Information

The possibility that Haftar could be elected president of Libya 18 months after he was ignominiously forced to abandon a military assault on Tripoli seems remote. His move also comes as the United States Congress passed legislation that requires the president to investigate him for possible war crimes. In an interview with a French magazine a year ago, Haftar said that Libya was not yet ready for democracy.

Megerisi said: “Haftar retains the power to intimidate, but has lost position. Prominent groups under his command have quietly rebelled or refused orders, and even in his heart of eastern Libya, the notion of him as a strong man is mocked. “

Other candidates are likely to be former Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha and Saif al-Islam, the son of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi. One observer said: “The difficulty with the elections is that it may depend on who pays the most to which militia to fill the most ballot boxes.”

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