The international community has notched up the pressure on key Libyan players to compel them to meet their commitments to find compromise solutions and agree on the constitutional basis for holding the general and presidential elections scheduled in the country for 24 December.
France, in consultation with the Libyan Government of National Unity (GNU) and Presidency Council, is preparing for a major conference in November to help end the current impasse.
Speaking to reporters while in Germany last week, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the conference would take place on 12 November and aimed to ensure that the elections went ahead on time. The participants would also discuss the departure of foreign fighters and mercenaries from Libya, he said.
Some analysts believe that in sponsoring this conference France is trying to salvage its eroding influence in the region and reassert itself as a player in remedying crises in North Africa and the Sahel. In November 2020, French President Emmanuel Macron announced his intention to host a major international conference that would bring Libya’s neighbours together in Paris, but the plans were overtaken by subsequent developments.
The US is preparing to sponsor another meeting between the Tobruk-based Libyan House of Representatives (HoR) and the Tripoli-based High Council of State (HCS) to help them reach a consensus over issues related to the electoral process.
The Libyan political process received a blow last week when the HoR voted in a closed session to withdraw confidence from the GNU headed by Abdel-Hamid Al-Dabeiba while keeping it as a caretaker government.
The action met with widespread anger among the Libyan public, who saw it as an attempt on the part of HoR Speaker Aguila Saleh to obstruct the forthcoming elections. The legislators who voted in favour of withdrawing confidence argued that the GNU has recently signed agreements with foreign powers that have encumbered Libya with commitments it cannot keep under current circumstances.
Their opponents said the true purpose was to pull the rug out from under Dabeiba, who has scored in popularity because of his decisions to increase wages, allowances for dependents, and grants for young people on the threshold of marriage.
The outcry against the no-confidence vote forced the HoR speaker to backtrack, saying that the GNU would continue to exercise its duties as long it refrains from concluding agreements with foreign powers. In televised statements, he suggested that the HoR might retract the vote of no confidence.
The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) also rejected the step. In a statement released on 21 September, it said that “UNSMIL has received, with concerns, reports that the House of Representatives (HoR) has passed a no-confidence motion against the Government of National Unity (GNU). The mission confirms that the current GNU remains the legitimate government up until it is replaced by another through a regular process following the elections.”
UNSMIL appealed to the HoR and other relevant institutions “to remain focused on completing the preparation of the constitutional and legislative framework for the 24 December elections.”
US Special Envoy and Ambassador to Libya Richard Norland said that the HoR’s recent action did not affect the central task of the GNU, which was to prepare for the elections on 24 December.
Norland is preparing to attend meetings between delegations from the House of Representatives and the High Council of State in the framework of the UNSMIL-sponsored Libyan dialogue. The chief items on the agenda will be the constitutional and legislative framework for the elections and the question of candidates for sovereign posts, according to Libyan sources.
The dialogue committees holding these meetings met several times during the first half of the year but reached no consensuses on the subjects under discussion. It is hoped that the forthcoming round of meetings will achieve a breakthrough on the constitutional basis for the elections and the electoral laws.
In the meantime, the HoR has passed an electoral law that the HCS rejects, saying that it has indicated proposals for the constitutional basis and electoral laws that it wants to discuss with the HoR.
In addition to these initiatives to salvage the roadmap to the Libyan elections, Tripoli is also planning to host an international conference in October organised in the framework of the “Initiative to Promote Libyan Stability” that the current executive proposed to the Berlin II Conference in June.
Addressing the UN General Assembly last week, chair of the Libyan Presidency Council Mohamed Al-Menfi said that the Initiative covers the political, security, military and economic tracks of the Libyan conflict, builds on the outputs of previous efforts, and seeks to promote continued international support for his country in accordance with a comprehensive national vision.
In addition to key national agencies and institutions, Al-Menfi expects the conference to be attended at a senior level by Libya’s regional and international partners. On his Twitter account, he wrote that during the conference he would propose an initiative to resolve the current impasse, sustain the current political process, enable the presidential and legislative elections to be held as scheduled in December and ensure that they are conducted fairly and that their results are accepted.
“In the event that an agreement cannot be reached,” he added in another tweet, “I will call on the concerned parties to step aside for the sake of the nation, not to nominate themselves for the forthcoming elections, and clear the way for other candidates so as to ensure the arrival at a consensus, avert any political deadlock, and help the country reach safety and the stability conducive to a consensus over a permanent constitution for the country.”
Al-Menfi had previously stressed the need for both the HoR and the HCS to agree on the constitutional basis for the elections and the electoral laws in order to avert possible challenges to the election results at a later stage.
His announcement of the Initiative comes at a time when some international quarters have hinted at the possibility that the Presidency Council might issue decrees pertaining to the constitutional basis and electoral laws, complicating matters if the decrees trigger serious disputes.
With his sights set on the elections in December, Commander of the Libyan National Army Khalifa Haftar has designated his Chief of Staff Abdel-Razek Al-Nadouri, as acting commander for a period of three months.
Haftar plans to run for president and has therefore resigned from his post in keeping with the presidential elections law recently passed by the HoR.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 30 September, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly