The Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) reconvened at the UN headquarters in Geneva on Monday to discuss “consensus formulas”. These target pending differences on the Constitutional Basis for the general elections scheduled to be held on 24 December, which most foreign and domestic stakeholders want to see on time. On Saturday, 26 June, the LPDF Advisory Committee concluded a three-day meeting in Tunis. The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) reports that the committee “reached consensus formulas on many of the outstanding issues and will submit its recommendations to the LPDF for consideration and appropriate decisions at its upcoming meeting on 28 June in Switzerland.” UNSMIL noted the “positive atmosphere filled with a spirit of compromise” that characterised the advisory committee’s meeting and seemed optimistic that the LPDF plenary would adopt its recommendations by 1 July, so that the elections could be held on time. The advisory committee members met again in Switzerland before presenting their proposal to the LPDF plenary.
Libyan sources speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly on Monday believe that some of the differences are still too sharp to overcome. They anticipate that the UNSMIL will press for a vote on the consensus formulas submitted to the LPDF plenary in order to finalise the decision. They suggest that the purpose of this mechanism is to pre-empt the House of Representatives – which is also meeting at this time, in Tobruk – in order to discuss the Constitutional Basis for the elections as well as the annual budget for this year.
According to those sources, as of Monday when the report was submitted, the controversy has centred on the form of the legislature and, therefore, on the nature of the constitutional basis required for the elections. Libya currently has a unicameral legislature (the House of Representatives, currently based in Tobruk) but some are pushing for a bicameral system which would include a senate based in Tripoli. Another difference concerns whether military officers can run for office. Indeed, some quarters in Libya question the need for a constitutional basis at all, given the existence of a draft constitution put together and adopted by the Libyan Constituent Assembly in 2017.
In his remarks to the opening session of the LPDF plenary in Switzerland on 28 June, UN Special Envoy for Libya Ján Kubiš appealed to participants “to overcome your differences and any trust deficit, focus your deliberations in the following days on reaching the largest possible consensus, and work constructively to bridge the remaining gaps through compromise.” Noting the need to meet the 1 July deadline in light of the timeline for the election stipulated by the Libyan roadmap, he said that “leaving Switzerland at the end of this week without a decision is not an option. Therefore, should consensus not be possible, you will need to agree on a mechanism to reach a decision through a vote on identified proposals, as you did in the past.” He added that the outcome of their meeting would be transmitted to the House of Representatives and to the High Council of State “to give them a last opportunity to carry out their responsibilities.” The wording implicitly reproaches these two bodies for failing to do so, so far.
The above-mentioned sources predicted that even if the LPDF members overcome differences and/or agree on a mechanism for reaching a decision, the process will run up against a wall. They believe that “those who lost out as a result of the selection of the executive authority in February” will attempt to obstruct or invalidate the voting process.
UNSMIL did not disclose the substance of the advisory committee’s recommendations or even mention the outstanding issues needing to be resolved. But it did make reference to the Berlin II Conference on Libya which concluded on 23 June. The conference conclusions underscored the need for the national presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for 24 December 2021 to take place as agreed on in the roadmap adopted by the LPDF and for their results to be accepted by all.
The same point also stressed that all foreign forces and mercenaries “need to be withdrawn from Libya without delay and the security sector reformed and placed firmly under unified, civilian authority and oversight.” The document noted that Turkey was the sole participant to introduce a reservation on this point. According to diplomatic officials familiar with the meeting, Ankara voiced its objection after Egypt reaffirmed its position in favour of the point.
It is noteworthy that neither UN Special Envoy for Libya Ján Kubiš nor UNSMIL Coordinator Raisedon Zenenga were present at the meeting of foreign ministers of countries concerned with the Libya question. Nor did the foreign ministers of Russia, China or Morocco attend, even though they had been invited. Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita explained that the reason he declined the invitation to attend Berlin II had to do with differences with Germany and with the Berlin process’s approach to handling the Libyan question. It is worth noting that Lavrov didn’t attend, but Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin, did, and China was also represented at a high level.
While noting how significantly the situation in Libya had improved since the first Berlin Conference on Libya on 19 January 2020, the conference conclusions stated that “more needs to be done to address and resolve the underlying causes of conflict, consolidate Libyan sovereignty, build on the progress made, and restore peace and prosperity for all Libyans.” In addition to calling for removing foreign forces and mercenaries and security sector reform, the conclusions stated, “A transparent and fair allocation of resources across the country must be ensured. Human rights violations and abuses as well as violations of international humanitarian law must be addressed and a process of inclusive, comprehensive and rights-based national reconciliation and transitional justice needs to begin.” Unfortunately, no progress has been made on any of these issues.
Now that it has a new executive and an interim Government of National Unity (GNU), which received the House of Representative’s vote of confidence in March, Libya has been included as a full participant in the Berlin Process. Prime Minister Abdel-Hamid Dabaiba participated, as the representative of GNU, so did the interim Libyan Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush. The two presented an initiative called The Stability of Libya, outlining a plan for full implementation of the ceasefire agreement signed by the 5+5 Joint Military Committee (JMC) in Geneva in October 2020. It included a timetable for the removal of foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya, opening the coastal road and reunifying the military establishment and other sovereign institutions. The initiative made no mention of elections, although the GNU had reaffirmed its commitment to the roadmap adopted by the LPDF which calls for presidential and parliamentary elections on 24 December 2021.
In a joint press conference with his Libyan counterpart Najla Mangoush, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas stressed the need for a balanced, step-by-step withdrawal of foreign fighters and mercenaries, making sure neither side can gain the advantage. He indicated that guarantees were still not in place to ensure such a process.
On the whole, Maas felt satisfied with the outcome of the conference even if the path ahead was not entirely smooth. Several security and logistical issues still pose an obstacle to holding the elections safely. Maas added that he would not like to see elections that were poorly prepared and did not include everyone but that he had faith that the GNU would do all it could to organise the elections on time.
Foreign Minister Mangoush was optimistic on the subject of foreign fighters. “We have had progress in terms of mercenaries, so you know hopefully within coming days, mercenaries from both sides are going to be withdrawing and I think this is going to be encouraging,” she said in the press conference. She added that, in the next stages, the focus would be on the timetable for the withdrawal of the foreign offices and then how to dismantle local militias or incorporate them into official security institutions.
The House of Representatives has postponed a vote on the national budget to 5 July as it awaits the GNU to clarify spending needs and possible cuts commensurate with the time remaining until the end of the year. Once the House receives the results of the LPDF session on the Constitutional Basis, it will deliberate that as well.
Meanwhile, GNU Prime Minister Abdel- Hamid Dabaiba, at the head of a ministerial delegation, arrived in Cairo on Tuesday evening to meet with Egyptian officials and reconvene the joint Egyptian-Libyan committee for the first time in 10 years. The two sides are expected to sign a raft of new agreements that aim to strengthen bilateral relations and promote reconstruction and the restoration of stability in Libya.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 1 July, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly