The international community’s approach towards the election process in Libya has been characterised by inconsistency and a lack of unity.
Libya has been mired in the chaos following long-time ruler Muammar Gaddafi‘s ousting in 2011. Many Libyans were optimistic about the future of their country, and people hoped for Libya to make the transition to stable democracy. However, the violent political conflicts that have wracked the country since 2011 are far from resolved, and the overthrow of Gaddafi’s regime failed to create stable political structures.
Even though the opponents had succeeded in removing Gaddafi from power, at the same time, their loose alliance broke down as the different parties sought varied agendas and distrusted each other for political and economic interests.
In the post-Gaddafi era, the critical challenges for Libya have been the issues of insecurity and political uncertainty. Due to the growing power vacuum, militias gained significant room to manoeuvre to the extent that they threatened the effectiveness of authority security forces across the country.
The absence of solid-state institutions led to increasing the number of various militias to hijack state institutions such as Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) and harness them for their interests. Consequently, this situation created more motivation for the conflict. Thus, the state institutions have to be re-established for the sake of the Libyan people, not for specific groups. Having efficient institutions could help create more effective and modern governance.
The international community made the elections a crucial part of a ceasefire deal on 23 October 2020, after the failure of a fourteen-month assault led by the warlord Haftar. The ceasefire agreement has generally been held so far, and the settlement process is supposed to prepare the country to hold the elections in December 2021. However, it did not go as planned, and eventually, the elections have now been postponed indefinitely.
Since the elections were postponed, political manoeuvring has increased among rival parties and leaders across Libya’s fragmented political sphere. The fate of a delicate peace process remains hanging in the balance.
Libya’s east-based parliament (HoR) has recently arbitrarily appointed former Interior Minister Fathi Bashaga as the new prime minister. This move is likely to produce two parallel administrations and the risk of an armed confrontation. In response to the HoR’s decision, Abdul Hamid Dbeiba, the current prime minister, has said he will hand over power only after an election and called the vote illegitimate.
Khalifa Haftar‘s Libyan National Army (LNA) recently welcomed Fathi Bashagha’s appointment. Reportedly, Haftar has reached a deal with Bashagha, and as part of his deal, he supported Bashagha in return to get some critical ministries such as the defence ministry.
The current political conflict in Libya is still much more complicated than only being the HoR versus the GNU. It seems that within the HoR, there is a deep division, with some members of the parliament still supporting the GNU, especially from the western part of the country. The UN and Western powers had previously called for Dbeibah to stay in his role until the election happened. In contrast, some members of HoR are staunchly opposed, especially those close to Aguila Saleh. These internal struggles in the country reflect the disunity between the various parties throughout the whole country.
It is imperative to note that between 2014 and 2021, there have been two rival administrations in Libya, one in Tripoli and one in Tobruk. In March 2021, a new interim government was established. The Government of National Unity (GNU) was selected through a United Nations-supported process and approved by the HoR. The GNU became Libya’s first unified government with this approval since 2014. Establishing a unified government raised the hope of bringing political stability and eventually holding the long-awaited elections.
Recently, the HoR approved a road map to hold elections within 14 months. However, Stephanie Williams, the UN Secretary-General’s special Libya adviser, has sought to convince the parties to have the polls by June. There are too many drivers of political instability in Libya, which has caused the postponement of the elections. Including a lack of consensus on the election law and security obstacles. It seems that these difficulties are unlikely to be resolved in the coming months.
Libya suffers a crisis of legitimacy that can only be remedied through a free and fair electoral process. However, the Libyan people have witnessed that the whole election process has been marred by controversy about rules and regulations over the last few months.
The absence of a constitution remains at the core of Libya’s problems. In the wake of the conflict, an agreement on constitutional design should go before elections, which otherwise are likely to fuel conflict.
Therefore, the drive to lasting political stability in the country seems to rely on reaching a consensus to have a new constitution. Besides, many Libyans believe that the country is unlikely to be stabilised without making significant progress on several key issues, including the reunification of institutions, economic reform, security sector reform, and political and military settlements.
The UN seeks to navigate Libya’s convoluted political process and faces a new period of profound division between rival parties. The international community’s approach towards the election process has been characterised by inconsistency and a lack of unity. For that reason, it is crucial to have a new, practical and applicable roadmap rather than setting new election dates. Otherwise, the UN’s supported peace process could collapse.
This article originally appeared in the opinion section of The New Arab website.