Libya moves closer to holding high-risk presidential elections

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty Images

Libya has moved closer to high-risk elections after the electoral officer said he would set out the electoral roll this week, open nominations for the post of president in November and distribute voting cards in weeks.

Facing stiff internal resistance to holding elections, he insisted the presidential election would be held in two stages, with a presidential run-off and elections to a parliament being held together afterwards.

He said each presidential candidate will require 5,000 nominations. It will be the first time Libya has been led by a president.

The announcement by Dr Emad al-Sayeh, the head of the High National Elections Commission (HNEC), was designed to put some momentum in the move towards elections, but he did not set a date for either of the two rounds of the elections, and admitted basic details on how the country’s constitution and election will operate remain to be resolved.

A variety of internal actors are trying to scupper the elections either because they hold power in the current interim set-up or genuinely fear elections in a divided country, flooded with foreign mercenaries and with a fragile ceasefire, could lead to violence that engulfs not just the country but the region.

Zara Linghi, a member of the UN Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, said the HNEC now had the potential to become the institutional guarantor of elections in Libya. She told the Guardian: “Yes there are risks to holding elections, but there are greater risks to not holding elections. The final source of stability for this country will come from democratic legitimacy and a reset. It has been a decade now nearly without legitimacy, and we have ended up with a government run by kleptocrats.”

The US and some other foreign powers are putting massive pressure on Libya’s political class to stick to their public support for elections on or around the planned date of 24 December arguing the country will never recover if it is run by illegitimate administrations.

Security has improved to the extent that Mohamed Salah, thought by many to be the best football player in the world at the moment, was able to travel with the Egypt team to beat Libya in Benghazi in the east of the country earlier this month, something that would have been deemed impossible a few years back.

UN ceasefire monitors started arriving in Libya to monitor an internally generated ceasefire that came into force precisely a year ago. But agreement has yet to be reached on the phased withdrawal of as many as 20,000 mercenaries and foreign fighters.

But in a sign that the interim government appointed by an UN body in February is manoeuvring to avoid elections foreign powers were forced to intervene this week to stop a government-organised stability conference staged in Tripoli putting a brake on the elections.

Fadel Lamen, the former head of the Libyan-American council, said early drafts of the stability conference declaration were clearly designed to postpone the elections and to unfreeze Libya’s assets abroad, and hand them to the interim government.

He said “The stability initiative aimed to put stability first and so postpone the elections on the grounds that Libya is not ready for them. We have to go ahead with the elections cognisant of the consequences of not holding them for the whole region.”

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