Libya’s hopes of ending a decade of political chaos with credible elections at the end of this year for a president and new unified parliament have reached a defining moment, with the US insisting the vote should go ahead but some European diplomats fearing divisions are too entrenched for the result ever to be accepted as legitimate.
The elections are due to take place on 24 December, but no agreement has been reached within the country on laws governing the election. There are also signs that the populist interim government, theoretically appointed by the UN to manage services ahead of the elections, might seek to capitalise on the impasse to stay in power indefinitely. Thousands of foreign troops, mainly funded by Turkey and Russia, are still in place.
The affair threatens to become an episode of failed nation-building to sit alongside Afghanistan.
Tarek Megerisi, Libya specialist at the European council on foreign relations, said: “The difficulty is Libya has lacked any political institutions with undisputed or popular legitimacy since the General National Congress was voted into power in 2012. This creates a political arena where incumbent elites have felt empowered to shirk their constitutional responsibilities of finalising a new constitution and ending the transitional period. This means they instead focus on scrapping for absolute power and looting Libya’s once considerable coffers.”
In public, western powers are applying maximum pressure for the elections to take place.
The Italian foreign minister, Luigi di Maio, has warned stability throughout the region will be jeopardised if the elections do not go ahead as planned. The Libya envoy for the US, Richard Norland, insists there is no turning back from the election date. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, will also stage a conference in Paris on 12 November to maintain momentum for the vote.
The eastern-based Libyan parliament, known as the House of Representatives, is still discussing a law to allow parliamentary elections to proceed, two months after the initial deadline. However, without a vote, the HoR has passed a law, after months of delay, to permit elections for a president on 24 December, but this has been sent back as inadequate by the Libyan electoral commission, the body responsible for overseeing the elections and setting up an electoral roll.
The law has also been rejected by parliament’s upper chamber, the High Council of State, effectively a rival body based in Tripoli which has a strong Muslim Brotherhood influence. The HCS wants only the parliamentary election to go ahead, but then for a referendum to be held on a constitution prior to staging presidential elections.
To add to the tension, the HoR last week passed a vote of no confidence in the interim government led by the prime minister, Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, accusing his administration of spending 51bn Libyan dinars ($11bn) in three months without any impact on services and imposing obligations on Libya through agreements with other countries worth a further 84bn dinars. The HoR speaker, Aguila Saleh, directed the government to sign no more contracts, but Dbeibah has responded to the censure saying “it…