The final touches

Ahmed Eleiba , Tuesday 11 Jul 2023

Ahmed Eleiba keeps up with the latest on the Libyan elections front

The final touches

 

The Libyan House of Representatives (HoR) and the High Council of State (HCS) were due to discuss the proposed electoral laws submitted to them by the 6+6 Committee on Monday, 10 July. They were then to determine the next steps towards forming a unified government to implement the next roadmap to elections. However, chaos erupted in the House prior to the debate, as a result of which the session was adjourned to the following day (Tuesday). Evidently, a quarrel broke out among MPs over the validity of several decisions adopted in the previous session, which had been chaired by the second deputy speaker of the House, Misbah Doma, and which reportedly lacked the necessary quorum for a vote. The HCS also adjourned its session on Monday due to the lack of a quorum.

Both bodies seem to want to postpone taking the necessary steps to salvage the political process in Libya. According to various Libyan sources consulted by Al-Ahram Weekly, the statements made by the speakers of both assemblies, HoR Speaker Aguila Saleh and the HCS Head Khaled Al-Mishri, ahead of the sessions suggested that the two had reached an “under the table” agreement on the next step, as one of the Libyan sources put it. That step would be to apply the electoral laws and proceed to form a new government regardless of the views of the members of both assemblies.

Another source agreed and cited as evidence the fact that several HoR MPs had proposed an initiative concerning the electoral laws and the formation of a new government which had not been considered by either the office of Khaled Al-Mishri or the HoR board. The initiative included, among other things, a proposal regarding holding a referendum on the draft constitution that had been approved by the Constitutional Drafting Committee several years ago.

It is also worth noting that, on the eve of Monday’s session, the Media Adviser to the Speaker of the Libyan House of Representatives Fathi Al-Marimi indicated there was a likelihood that modifications would be introduced to the outputs of the 6+6 Committee with regard to the second round of elections. There should be no need for a second round if a candidate manages to obtain over 50 per cent of the vote in the first round, he said. He also believed that there would be proposals regarding the candidacies of individuals holding public office. According to the draft laws of the 6+6 Committee, it is not clear whether or not a public official or military officer could resume their post in the event that they lost in the elections, even though the provision stated that a person would be considered to have resigned from his post if their candidacy is approved. HoR Speaker Aguila Saleh held that such a question would never arise in most other countries with a parliamentary system. Elsewhere, the presumption is that candidates would be able to resume their posts if they lost.

The 6+6 Committee had been formed as a means to overcome an impasse and lack of resolve in the parliament and HSC with regard to the constitutional basis for elections and electoral laws, and it was therefore presumed that its outputs would be considered final. But it is now evident that there are moves in both assemblies to push for amendments to the committee’s outputs. Preempting criticism, the HoR speaker has argued that the changes would be technical, not substantial. The HCS, for its part, indicated that its adjourned session was to have discussed observations on the 6+6 Committee’s outputs as they stood. So, it is unclear what the fate of these observations would be if they were adopted by the HCS and the HoR then modifies the outputs.

Apart from the question of possible changes to the draft electoral laws, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) believes that it will be necessary to rally a greater consensus within Libyan civil society over the laws and the forthcoming roadmap once they are approved. The UN Special Representative for Libya and Head of UNSMIL Abdoulaye Bathily suspects that no efforts will be made to broaden the dialogue over the laws and possible amendments at the national level and that, instead, the laws will merely be referred to the High National Election Commission (HNEC) for implementation. But this, in turn, raises another problem, which is that a significant portion of members of the HoR and HCS believe that the HNEC should be reconstituted.

Before that, however, the next dilemma to rear its horns will be how to form a new national unity government and create a single executive authority. Libya is still run by two governments, one based in the east in Tobruk and the other in the west in Tripoli. The current prime minister of the Tripoli-based Government of National Unity (GNU), Abdel-Hamid Al-Dbeibah refuses to stand down, insisting that he will continue to perform his duties until the elections are over and he hands over power to the newly elected authority. The HCS Head Khaled Al-Mishri has stated that certain steps could be taken to pressure Dbeibah into stepping aside, though he did not clarify what these steps might be. Some have suggested that the HoR and HCS could appeal to the UN to approve a new roadmap, should the two assemblies agree on one. A new roadmap would make it politically awkward for the current GNU to remain in place.  Some fear that Dbeibah’s step to form a “unified operations room” in Tripoli may have been designed to preempt steps against him. They predict that a new power struggle is looming and that this could obstruct the new roadmap to elections.

In January this year, the HoR approved a new government to replace the GNU. That government is currently performing its duties in the east, with the support of the HoR and the general military command headed by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. The prime minister of the eastern government Osama Hamad has stated that he and his government would step down in the event the HoR and HCS agreed on the formation of a new unified government.

Meanwhile, various corruption allegations hover over the Dbeibah government. A recent auditing report shows that the government has squandered millions of dollars in the last year alone. Haftar seized on the report to launch a broadside against the GNU charging that eastern Libya obtained only seven per cent of government resources and calling for the creation of an independent high commission to administer oil revenues. Further embarrassment for that government was generated when an Ajdabiya court ordered the sequestration of certain oil moneys. At the same time, the Libyan Presidential Council has just formed a “Financial High Committee,” under the council’s supervision, to oversee the distribution of financial revenues.

Unfortunately, this has stirred another squabble over jurisdiction. Some MPs have questioned the Presidential Council’s authority to form such a committee, pointing to the court ruling that states that this authority falls under the jurisdiction of the government. This was clearly at the back of Haftar’s mind when he recently met the prime minister of the eastern government, the government that he and Saleh would argue is the one intended by the court ruling since this is the government that was formed and approved by the House of Representatives. If, indeed, a tug-of-war over this authority arises between the Presidential Council and the HoR, one imagines that two Financial High Committees will be formed. Even so, the National Oil Company (NOC) and the Libyan Central Bank are unlikely to deal with the eastern government and its committee. Instead, they will deal with the committee formed by the Presidential Council even as the committee faces probable judicial challenges.

The Libyan political process is still riddled with thickets. Even though it has neared its last leg before elections, this is the make it or break it phase, as previous Libyan experience has taught us. Everything can fall apart at the last minute, as it did in December last year. Already the mounting tensions surrounding the Dbeibah government are ominous. So far they are contained, but there are no guarantees that they could not range dangerously out of control.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 13 July, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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