By Janet Ekstract
ISTANBUL- Libya is mired in a catch-22 that many analysts and Libya experts sense is likely to implode. The ubiquitous political factions jockeying for power and recognition in the run-up to the North African nation’s presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for December 24 are casting a dark cloud over hopeful expectations for a ‘free’ election. The fact that at least 20,000 mercenaries and foreign fighters remain on the frontlines in Libya is a telling sign that the vision of a truly inclusive election is far from realistic.
Meanwhile, UN Special Envoy to Libya, Jan Kubis who heads the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), told the UN Security Council last week that the international community needs to unite in support of the election process in Libya. Kubis, who resigned his post recently, has been at the center of keeping the political process on course as rival groups in Libya navigate a contentious situation involving several candidates for president – the current PM Abdulhamid Debeibah and the second son of the deceased dictator Moammar Gaddafi -Saif al-Islam. Debeibah whose bid for candidacy was put to a vote by a Tripoli court is now allowed to run on the presidential ballot. Initially, complaints had surfaced accusing Debeibah of not forfeiting his position three months prior to filing for candidacy as is required by Libya electoral law. While Gaddafi’s second son al-Islam was forced to withdraw his candidacy at gunpoint a week ago when armed groups cornered him to prevent him from running – on December 2, the court said he would be allowed to be on the ballot for president.
Saif al-Islam’s bid for president much to the consternation of another presidential candidate, eastern Libyan military commander and strongman Khalifa Haftar is anathema. Haftar, who controls the Libya National Army (LNA) based out of eastern Libya and a portion of the southern region, views Gaddafi’s run for president as nothing short of treasonous. While reports indicate Gaddafi’s second son is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of genocide, Haftar was also on that shortlist from the ICC a year ago for mass graves discovered in Tarhuna. No doubt that political wrangling and certain undisclosed connections have kept both candidates from being disqualified and arrested.
Meanwhile, Special Envoy to Libya, Kubis commented that the political climate in the country remains “heavily polarized” in the run up to elections scheduled for December 24 with both presidential and parliamentary candidates to be voted in. The process that is tied to a roadmap established with UN assistance and adopted last year after a historic ceasefire agreement – appears to be in jeopardy many experts on the region, fear. This is largely due to the fact that a plethora of rival political and religious factions are at loggerheads about exactly how Libya should be governed.
Despite the high hopes of the UN, the U.S. and the international community, the situation in Libya remains tense with a scheduled election tenuous, at best. This month, influential and prominent people in several cities demanded a boycott and several voting offices were shut down by groups hostile to Gaddafi’s candidacy which prevented voters from collecting their voting cards. Reports are that despite 2.4 million voting cards collected in the North African nation of seven million – some voters arrived at electoral offices and found that their cards were already picked up by someone else.
The larger question is how will voters be able to cast their ballots safely when the security situation in Libya is still controlled by a multitude of militias and foreign forces. Senior Fellow of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime Jalel Harchaoui whose focus is on the security landscape and political economy of North Africa said: “Nobody seriously has any illusion that security will be guaranteed at every voting station in Libya.” Harchaoui added: “In any scenario, there will be fraud, boycotts, blockades, voter intimidation and clashes. The most optimistic scenario is that these irregularities aren’t too spectacular or big.”
As envoy Kubis further commented: “Libya continues to be at a delicate and fragile juncture on its path to unity and stability through the ballot boxes.” He added: “While risks associated with the ongoing political polarization around the elections are evident and present, not holding the elections could gravely deteriorate the situation in the country and could lead to further division and conflict.” Libya’s High National Election Commission (HNEC) confirmed that the first round of presidential elections will take place on December 24. The second round, and parliamentary elections, are scheduled to be held almost two months later. All final results will be announced simultaneously. While registration for presidential candidates ended last week, continuing registration for parliamentary elections ends on December 7 with more than 2,000 people, including 276 women, coming forward as candidates.
Currently, nearly two million voter cards have been distributed to date while more than 3,200 domestic observers, 320 national media representatives, 20 international media, and nine international observation organizations have applied for HNEC accreditation. Mr. Kubiš said the high number of registered voters and candidates shows Libyans “are yearning for an opportunity to elect their representatives and give them a mandate to govern Libya through democratic legitimacy.” Kubis added that this ultimate goal must be the final result and he emphasized the need for international support to safeguard the integrity of the electoral process. The envoy added: “It is the Libyans that have their future and the future of Libya in their hands.” Kubis further commented: “They should participate in the elections, vote for those that are committed to stable, prosperous, united, sovereign and democratic Libya, governed by the rule of law and committed to fight corruption, pursue national reconciliation, justice and accountability”.
Addressing his decision to step down, Kubis who submitted his resignation in mid-November this year to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said that the situation involves “delicate and complex electoral processes,” along with, as he put it – the need for a UN-mediated process. To that end, Kubis recommended the head of UNSMIL must be urgently relocated to Libya’s capital Tripoli which he said he has continuously supported as well as splitting the positions of Special Envoy and UN mission chief. The Special Envoy said: “In order to create conditions for this, on 17 November 2021, I tendered my resignation.” Kubis has agreed to stay on for a transitional period through the electoral process. UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said the secretary-general accepted Kubis’ resignation “with regret” and is currently working to find the right person to replace him. He said: “We are all fully aware of the electoral calendar and are working as quickly as possible to ensure continuity of leadership.”