Despite the regional and international disappointment in Libya’s failure to hold the presidential elections at the scheduled time, the Libyan people should be relieved. Holding the elections in such legal and security chaos, where the militia is dictating the political decisions, is a recipe for disaster. Elections – of any type – need a stable and secure environment to be able to generate fair and enduring outcomes. Otherwise, the democratic practice will enable the wrong actors to take the lead and cause more damage than good to the people who elected them. Up till this moment, Libya has not been able to secure the right environment for the elections to succeed.
After weeks of confusion and speculations, the High National Elections Commission (HNEC) announced, on December 22nd, its inability to hold the presidential elections on the scheduled date of December 25th. HNEC, which is based in Tripoli, could not make the official decision to postpone the elections, because the governing laws entitle this right to the Parliament, which is based in Benghazi. Therefore, the Head of HNEC had to recite a public statement explaining his institution’s inability to hold the elections at the time due to a persistent state of “force majeure.” Then, he proposed to the Parliament to order postponing the date of the presidential election to January 24th until this state of force majeure is cleared.
Despite the many logical reasons that make holding elections in Libya a suicidal act, the international community has been pressuring hard for the elections to happen, so involved world powers can, eventually, get their hands out of Libya to take care of other priorities; ranging from the pandemic to the rising economic threat of China. In November, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) promised that “those who try to obstruct the elections in Libya will be punished.”
Ironically, this statement was made on the same day Jan Kubis abruptly resigned from his positions as the Secretary-General's Special Envoy and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL). The vacuum, that Kubis created by his sudden and unjustified quit only one month before the elections date, added a huge load of stress on the already tense situation in Libya and was one of the factors that led to the obstruction of the elections. Yet, Kubis has not received any punishment from the UNSC.
The obstacles standing in the way of Libya elections, which created the force majeure that the HNEC referred to, are not only limited to security threats. With a flawed and elastic electoral law that allows any Libyan citizen above forty years old to run for the presidential seat, we can hardly expect that these elections will be able to achieve the end goal of the political solution process. The tens of registered candidates are either new names with minimum to no qualification to lead a country like Libya, or some known trouble-makers from the current political elite, in Tripoli and Benghazi.
There is no guarantee that either side of the political conflict in Libya will peacefully accept the voting results without initiating a dispute that may quickly escalate into a violent conflict. Iraq is one of the most recent examples of how politically biased militias can turn a democratic practice, like public voting, into an armed conflict. This is a scenario that the exhausted Libya will not be able to handle. The odds of pushing Libya back into the hell of civil war, as a result of disputes over election results, are more likely in light of extreme internal divisions and external interventions, that rely on heavy-armed militia and foreign mercenaries.
Unifying western and eastern Libya should have been completed before continuing with the preparation for the elections, in December, and should be the top priority now after the elections’ postponement. The unexpected visit of the Tripoli-based leaders, Ahmed Maiteeq and Fathi Bashagha, to Benghazi, on the morning of postponing the elections is an excellent move in the right direction. Maiteeq and Bashagha are prominent figures in the former Government of National Accord (GNA). Taking the initiative to meet with their worst rival, General Khalifa Haftar of the Libyan National Army (LNA), is a tremendous political shift that deserves applause.
However, the most important factor in the formula of unifying the conflicting western and eastern of Libya was to unify the military forces that each of the two sides led. Unfortunately, up till this moment, Haftar is not willing to submit his LNA forces under the ranks of the Tripoli-based official Armed Forces. The continuity of the military division justifies the continued presence of foreign military troops and mercenaries and even empowers the local militias.
The important question now is whether the postponement of the elections to January 24th would make any difference in this complicated political and security dilemma of Libya. How we can expect the the interim government of National Unity (GNU) to solve the force majeure and remove the obstacles hindering the elections within the next four weeks if GNU failed to make that happen in the past nine months.
The election of the GNU, in January, thanks to the miraculous efforts of Stephanie Williams, then chief of UNSMIL and now UN General Secretary Special Advisor on Libya, created hope that the political solution for Libya might really work. This was the first time, the Libyans agreed, after six years of a brutal civil war (2014-2019) that claimed the lives of thousands of innocent civilians, and created tribal chaos that empowered ideological terrorists, local militia, and interventions by foreign powers.
Let’s hope that the extremely smart and determined, Stephanie Williams, will be able to bring the political solution process back on track, before January 24th.
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