Libya’s alternatives

Kamel Abdallah , Monday 30 Aug 2021

Taking on the electoral impasse preventing progress in Libya

Libya’s alternatives
Head of Libya’s national elections commission Imad Al-Sayeh speaks during a press conference in the capital Tripoli. AFP

The Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) remains unable to agree on a constitutional basis for holding legislative and presidential elections — slated for 24 December, according to the roadmap the forum agreed on in Tunisia in November 2020.

The ongoing impasse was supposed to have been resolved by July. Its persistence has raised concerns over a possible backslide to a political stalemate or, worse, conflict. To avert such spectres, many local and international stakeholders are studying alternatives to this and similar challenges, according to sources speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly.

The High National Elections Commission (HNEC), which is responsible for making arrangements for the elections, which are only four months away, has had to amend its plans. In early July, HNEC Chairman Imad Al-Sayeh said the commission would wait till August for the approval of the constitutional basis so as to proceed with arrangements.

Yet the House of Representatives (HoR) and the High Council of State (HCS) are still unable to see eye to eye while trading accusations and blaming each other for obstructing the political path. Both are trying to operate unilaterally and on select issues of the roadmap, such as the appointments to key sovereign posts.

In view of the urgency of the matter, the Proposals Bridging Committee, which had been formed by the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) to facilitate agreements, developed four proposals that it forwarded to the LPDF.

It was initially hoped that the committee members would agree on a single, unified proposal, but that proved impossible. They did, however, agree on a decision-making mechanism for the LPDF to take its final decision on the constitutional basis. The plenary dedicated to reviewing the committee’s proposals was held last week, online, on 11 August.

 As UN Special Envoy for Libya Ján Kubiš explained in his introductory remarks to that meeting, its purpose was to give attendees the opportunity to hear out proposals, then share their ideas and views “in a constructive manner, exploring how they could be improved and adapted to reach a higher level of consensus within this forum”.

The plan was then to refine the ideas in further meetings. After holding consultations with key stakeholders in Libya and abroad, he would convene another meeting of the forum, “provided you signal readiness to work for a compromise.”

He added that meeting would most likely be in person, and stressed, “We cannot afford another inconclusive outcome.” He urged LPDF members to summon the political will to move past their differences, to live up to their responsibilities to the Libyan people and “focus on the most important objective which is to develop a constitutional framework for free, fair, transparent, and inclusive elections.”

Other parties, meanwhile, went on to study other available options to end the current stalemate. Two new options were under discussion with local, regional and international parties, Libyan sources told Al-Ahram Weekly. They suggested that those options were being advocated by players whose aims had not been achieved through the LPDF. The first was premised on expectations that the elections could not be held on time. The other was somewhat more optimistic and called for just presidential elections at the date stipulated in the roadmap.

As for the four main proposals for a constitutional basis for elections which the bridging committee forwarded to the LPDF, one calls for presidential and parliamentary elections to be held simultaneously without restrictions on nominations for president. The second calls for simultaneous parliamentary and presidential elections with certain restrictions.

The third is to hold elections for a bicameral legislature, with one house based in Benghazi and the other in Tripoli while postponing presidential elections until after the referendum on the constitution or agreement on the constitutional basis. The fourth proposal is to hold elections for a bicameral legislature, which would then elect the president.

The decision-making mechanism that LPDF members would use to determine which of the four proposals to adopt would apply a two round voting process, one to narrow down the options to two and run-off to be determined by a simple majority.

According to the aforementioned Libyan sources, the first proposal is based on a plan to wait until election day on 24 December, at which point the House of Representatives would withdraw confidence from the current Government of National Unity (GNU) headed by Abdel-Hamid Dbeibah and HoR Speaker Aguila Saleh would designate Fathy Bashagha, the former interior minister, to form a new government.

Bashagha and Saleh joined forces before when they fielded themselves for the new executive authority that was formed by the LPDF. When the votes were cast, however, the majority fell to the list in which Mohammed Al-Manfi ran as chairman of the Presidency Council and Dbeibah as prime minister of the GNU.

Bashagha has already stated that he plans to run for president. However, with the constitutional basis still up in the air, the former interior minister is now trying to persuade his ally Aguila Saleh to designate him prime minister to replace Dbeibah at the end of the year.

Bashagha has intensified his political tours at home and abroad to promote his political aspirations, according to the sources, who add that LPDF figures close to Bashagha have begun to float a fifth proposal on top of the four proposed by the bridging committee, which calls for presidential elections alone.

Needless to say, that proposal would run up against stiff opposition, not least UNSMIL’s insistence on sticking with the existing roadmap and its determination to limit the number of proposals for the constitutional basis in order to resolve this issue as soon as possible.

The HoR speaker, for his part, has threatened to form a parallel government in the east to rival the GNU headed by Al-Dbeibah. Saleh accuses the GNU, which he calls “the government of Tripoli,” of being over-centralised, incompetent, unwilling to unify institutions and unable to remedy the economic crisis to improve people’s living standards. That course, too, would encounter numerous obstacles against the backdrop of complex patterns of local power balance, and it would be unlikely to gain traction, let alone a minimum degree of political legitimacy.

The sources told the Weekly that yet another idea has been aired that involves forming a new, three-member military council to become the general command of the Libyan National Army (LNA) for western and southern Libya (Cyrenaica and Fezzan). This proposal would come into play in the event that the LNA commander, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, runs for president.

The US is one of the strongest backers of the LPDF roadmap and the plan to hold parliamentary and presidential elections according to schedule and, thus, it is one of the most active parties pushing against attempts to derail it.

In this context, the US Special Envoy and Ambassador the Libya Richard Norman has been holding intensive rounds of talks with all concerned parties to encourage them to adhere to their commitments. On a visit to Cairo last week, he met with HoR Speaker Aguila Saleh, MP Ziyad Dedham and LNA commander Khalifa Haftar. After Cairo, Nor land headed to Ankara on 12 August where he held what the US embassy in Libya described as “productive consultations” with senior Turkish officials that “focused on the urgency of establishing the constitutional basis and legal framework needed for the elections to take place on December 24.”

The embassy stressed the need to support “the right of the Libyan people to select their leaders through an open democratic process free of outside pressure”, and urged “key figures to use their influence at this critical stage to do what is best for all Libyans.”

*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 August, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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