Electoral stumbling block in Libya

Kamel Abdallah , Thursday 29 Jun 2023

The UN Special Envoy and Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) Abdoulaye Bathily has recently addressed the international community again.

Electoral stumbling block


He urged the powers that be to increase pressure on Libyan political leaders to reach a consensus on the constitutional framework and electoral laws required to hold presidential and legislative elections by the end of the year.

In his briefing to the UN Security Council on 19 June, Bathily reported that the 6+6 Committee, tasked by the Libyan House of Representatives (HoR) and the High Council of State (HCS) to finalise the electoral laws, had already reached an agreement on draft laws but that this step was “not sufficient to resolve the most contested issues and enable successful elections.”

The 6+6 Committee had met in Bouznika, Morocco, from 22 May to 6 June, in order to iron out some long standing differences over the laws. UNSMIL had assigned a technical team of electoral, gender and constitutional experts to advise committee members who announced their agreement on draft laws in the closing session on 6 June.

“We have since seen a flurry of mixed reactions from Libyan stakeholders on the agreed text, indicating that key issues remain strongly contested,” Bathily said. He pointed out that the High National Electoral Commission (HNEC) had officially expressed concerns about serious loopholes and technical shortcomings in the draft laws.

The most controversial provisions were four: the eligibility criteria for presidential candidates, the mandatory second round in the presidential election even if a candidate wins more than 50 per cent of the vote, the provision to cancel parliamentary elections if the first round of presidential elections failed, and the provision to establish a new interim government before elections can take place.

All those provisions, Bathily said, were “highly contentious and require, first and foremost, a political agreement among the major stakeholders and key constituencies across the Libyan political spectrum. Short of this, related provisions in the laws would surely remain unimplementable and might even trigger a new crisis.”

The only way to avert this gloomy prospect was through urgent steps to overcome persistent disagreements over those issues, which meant that Libyan decision-makers had to act in a spirit of compromise and put the interests of the Libyan people first and foremost. “Without such compromises, the contested issues are likely to take the electoral process into a cul-de-sac, like in 2021, which will result in further polarisation and even the destabilisation of the country.”

The UN special envoy’s remarks have raised doubts about the 6+6 Committee which, instead of sorting out the remaining differences, has thrown more obstacles in the path of the long awaited elections. Numerous talks have taken place between HoR Speaker Aguila Saleh and HCS leader Khaled Mishri and between representatives of the HoR and HCS in Cairo, Rabat and Geneva in the past two years.

Essentially, the participants managed to reduce their differences over the constitutional framework for elections to one area: the eligibility criteria for candidates in the presidential elections. As is clear from Bathily’s briefing, the 6+6 Committee added several more differences which, moreover, would require considerable amounts of time and effort to resolve, probably making it impossible to hold the elections before the end of the year.

Ahead of his briefing to the UN Security Council, Bathily had met with the head of the Libyan Presidential Council Mohamed Al-Manfi, the Chairman of the HNEC Emad Al-Sayeh, the Prime Minister of the Government of National Unity Abdel-Hamid Al-Dbeibah, and the HNC leader Khaled Al-Mishri in Tripoli. Prior to that, he had met with the HoR Speaker Aguila Saleh and Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar in Benghazi. The purpose of these discussions was to resolve outstanding problems with the electoral laws.

In his meetings the UN special envoy stressed that UNSMIL was ready to work with the HCS and other Libyan stakeholders to improve the legal framework for the elections and to bring together all stakeholders in order to reach a consensuses on the different issues, according to a statement released by the Presidential Council’s press office.

Al-Manfi agreed on the need for agreement among the main stakeholders over a consensual and inclusive framework that would lead to the elections to which the Libyan people aspire and that would end the syndrome of successive interim phases. In a similar vein, Al-Dbeibah stressed the importance of fair and implementable laws if the election process is to succeed and usher in the stability that Libyans long for.

On Sunday 18 June, Al-Mishri, for his part, insisted that the draft electoral laws produced by the 6+6 Committee were “final and binding and welcomed by both houses”. He added that should there be a need to amend them, which was “unlikely,” the amendment would have to be drafted by the 6+6 Committee. In effect, this was a reversal of his previous stance. At the time the draft laws were announced on 6 June, Al-Mishri suggested he had reservations.

While the draft laws announced by the 6+6 Committee triggered conflicting reactions inside Libya, they were enthusiastically welcomed across the Arab region, from Morocco to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan, Iraq and even at the level of the Arab League. It is noteworthy, though, that neither Mishri or Saleh signed them, even though they had both travelled to Morocco for the signing ceremony.

In a letter to the HoR and HCS, HNEC Director Emad Al-Sayeh noted 12 observations about the draft electoral laws and stressed that they had not been presented in advance to the HNEC for its opinion. The 6+6 Committee denied this.

In the opinion of numerous political figures and parties, the draft laws fell short of expectations. In a joint letter, 61 MPs accused the 6+6 Committee of exceeding its remit and deviating from its task which was to agree on the outstanding points of difference related to the presidential elections. They also faulted the speaker of the house for signing or approving the outputs of the committee without referring back to parliament. Referring to another contentious provision, they insisted that no changes should be made to the number of parliamentary seats, and that the question of increasing or decreasing them should be left to the drafters of the next constitution.

Similarly, 54 members of the HCS declared their opposition to the draft laws which they described as “invalid” and “unconstitutional.” They too accused the 6+6 Committee of overstepping its authorities and called on all political forces and parties and civil society organisations to reject any potential consensus among the members of the committee on electoral laws if they made it possible for dual nationals, military officers and convicts to run for president.

The draft laws, a copy of which has been made available to Al-Ahram Weekly, will ease the eligibility criteria for presidential candidates in Libya while making them tougher for potential parliamentary candidates. Some provisions could create technical impediments to holding the elections, such as that stating that the elections had to be held within 240 days after the draft laws were passed. The provision calling for the establishment of a new interim government to oversee the electoral process would be particularly thorny since it would require the GNU to stand down. The current GNU prime minister has previously insisted that he would not step aside before elections.

If pressures fail to compel Libyan politicians to come to terms on the electoral laws, the UN may be forced to take the route of a new political dialogue forum. It is noteworthy, in this regard, that Bathily did not mention the possibility of creating a high level steering committee, an alternative he had proposed in his UNSC briefing in February. Moreover, after his briefing on Monday, the UK representative to the UNSC said her country would support a new Libyan Political Agreement. Preparing for a new LPA, should the international community approve that option, would take even longer than preparing for a new political dialogue forum.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 22 June, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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