The UN Support Mission for Libya (UNSMIL) had not yet announced how participants in the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) had voted on Monday evening on the selection mechanism for the new Libyan executive authority at the time Al-Ahram Weekly went to press.
At the same time, UN Secretary-General António Guterres announced the appointment of Ján Kubiš of Slovakia as the new UN special envoy on Libya and head of the UNSMIL. The announcement stirred questions as to the timing and impact of the new appointment on the UN-sponsored process to resolve the Libyan conflict, known as the Berlin Process.
On Saturday, acting UN Libya Envoy Stephanie Williams announced from Geneva that the 18 members of the LPDF advisory committee who had flown to the Swiss city had agreed on proposals to select the members of a temporary executive representative of all the regions of the country.
The 74 participants of the LPDF had been deadlocked over this issue since November. Guterres praised the “breakthrough” the committee had reached after five days of meetings in Geneva over the weekend.
Describing the proposal as “the best possible compromise,” Williams explained that it “respects the regional dimension and… encourages people to work across the divide and across regions, in order to strengthen understanding and to build unity in the country.”
She added that “it embodies the principles of full inclusivity, transparency and fair representation across regions and within different population groups.”
The proposal was brought to a vote by the LPDF plenary on Monday. As Williams explained on 16 January, the proposal calls for the formation of regional electoral colleges, each of which would nominate its representative to the Libyan Presidency Council based on the principle of an agreement of 70 per cent.
“If this is not possible, lists shall be formed from all the regions. Each list shall consist of four persons who will specify the position for which they are running, such as president of the Presidency Council, member of Presidency Council or prime minister.”
To be eligible, a list must receive 17 endorsements, eight from the West of Libya, six from the East and three from the South. “The winning list shall be the one that receives 60 per cent of the votes of the plenary in the first round. If none of the lists receives this percentage, the two lists that receive the highest percentage shall compete in the second round. The winning list in that round shall be the one that receives 50 per cent + 1 in the plenary,” Williams said.
The acting UN Libya envoy is due to leave Libya at the end of the week to take up a post in Lyons, France, a diplomatic source told the Weekly. Her replacement will assume his duties at the beginning of February, although he will be exercising them from UN headquarters in Geneva.
He will be responsible for the mediating process, while Raisedon Zenenga of Zimbabwe, assistant UN envoy and coordinator of UNSMIL, will oversee day-to-day work from the UNSMIL office in Tripoli.
The change in leadership may complicate the mission’s tasks and weaken the UN role, especially if the chief envoy operates outside Libya, leaving the team in Tripoli more vulnerable to pressures from Libyan forces backed by different foreign powers.
Nevertheless, Guterres remains optimistic because of the consensus on the mechanism for the selection of the executive authority. He had commended the LPDF on its “constructive discussions during its meeting in Geneva from 13 to 16 January,” said Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric in a statement released on 18 January.
Kubiš, who has just completed a tour as UN special coordinator for Lebanon, may have to initiate new negotiating tracks for key regional and international stakeholders in Libya because of the increasing role played by foreign backers of the Libyan factions. The new tracks would presumably operate in tandem with the three tracks of the Berlin Process.
The UNSMIL leadership was restructured in 2018 in response to pressures from then US secretary of defence James Mattis and supported by US agencies that have been monitoring developments in Libya since 2011.
However, the division of the leadership between a lead mediator based in Geneva and an assistant based in Tripoli is new. Some believe the division will be useful. Others fear it will not be able to counter the rise of foreign interventions that feed the disputes between the Libyan factions. UNSMIL is also reportedly short on funding.
The slow progress of the LPDF, the main forum for the political track, has stimulated growing competition among rival forces, some of which aspire to be selected for one of the positions in the new executive.
In Tripoli, the rivalry is particularly fierce between current head of the Libyan Presidency Council Fayez Al-Sarraj and current Minister of the Interior of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) Fathi Bashagha.
The latter has announced plans to launch a security operation targeting illegal militias and smuggling and human-trafficking gangs. Al-Sarraj believes that Bashagha intends to use the operation as a screen for eliminating his rivals in western Libya.
On Sunday, he created a new security apparatus called the Stability Support Authority and named the four warlords who head the consortium of militias that make up the Tripoli Protection Force as the commander and deputy commanders of the new apparatus.
In eastern Libya, Aguila Saleh, speaker of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives, and Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA), are still at loggerheads because of the former’s determination to field himself as head of the Presidency Council.
Haftar has signalled his support for Al-Sarraj’s initiative that would name Haftar as new prime minister tasked with forming a national unity cabinet. It appears that this option stands the best chances of implementation in the light of ongoing disputes between local forces and their regional and international backers.
The military and economic tracks of the Berlin Process are contingent on progress on the political track. Although the ceasefire agreement reached by the participants in the military track in October paved the way for the convention of the LPDF, a standstill in the political process raises the risk of backsliding in the military situation as well as on the economic track, despite the recent agreement to devalue the Libyan dinar to offset mounting local debt and promote a unified national budget.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 January, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.