Libya’s presidential and legislative elections are likely to be delayed to 2019, as competing political factions in the east and west struggle to develop an acceptable constitutional framework.

Even if held, the elections are by no means guaranteed to deliver widespread stability – particularly if they are rushed, without securing support from a large number of Libya’s various groups and militias. 

We view a delay in Libya’s presidential and legislative elections, scheduled for 2018, as likely. Little progress has been made to date in developing a framework for elections and enhancing cooperation between the country’s rival eastern and western factions.

Even if elections are held, we remain skeptical of their ability to deliver widespread stability –particularly if they are rushed, without securing support from a large number of the various groups and militias operating in the country.

In any case, the process of re-establishing stability on the ground across Libya will take many years, given the highly fragmented nature of the conflict and weak state structures.

As such, we expect clashes between rival militant groups to continue to occur with regular frequency over the quarters ahead, and oil infrastructure to remain at elevated risk of attacks.

2018 Election Deadline Will Be Difficult to Meet

We remain skeptical of Libyan authorities’ ability to stage credible legislative and presidential elections before end-2018, as envisioned under the UN’s new action plan for the country.

Voter registration is gathering pace: The High National Election Commission has added 660,000 citizens to the electoral roll since December 6 (bringing the total to 2.17mn), suggesting substantial support for the process among the wider population.

Khalifa Haftar, whose Libyan National Army (LNA) controls vast areas of the country, has also indicated support, hinting at his intention to run for president. Despite these positive signs, however, major obstacles to staging free and fair elections persist. Crucially, a new constitution still needs to be developed and approved through a referendum.

Progress on this issue has been limited to date, hampered by the rival eastern and western political factions’ inability to compromise and cooperate, and there is little to suggest this trend will shift over the near term.

Moreover, security conditions will need to improve significantly in order to facilitate the actual process of voting. This will require approval from, and collaboration with, major militias across the country – a process which is likely to prove difficult and time-consuming. A delay in the staging of elections, therefore, appears likely.

Elections Will Not Necessarily Translate into Stability

Even if elections are held, these are by no means guaranteed to translate into a lasting resolution of the conflict. The more issues left unresolved prior to the elections, the less likely they are to enhance stability.

In particular, we question whether the losing faction will ultimately endorse the results. Haftar is, in our view, unlikely to accept defeat, if he is not, instead, granted full military authority.

On the other hand, a Haftar win (or assumption of full military authority) would be a hard sell to Libya’s western militias and groups, many of which remain strongly opposed to the idea of granting the field marshal any substantial powers, given his ties to the former Qadhafi regime (1969-2011).

The western political leadership lacks the authority on the ground to convince these groups and militias to commit to any such political solution. 

Meanwhile, the international community remains fragmented in their approach to the conflict – Russia, Egypt and the UAE support Haftar, while much of Europe, as well as the US, back the western leadership – complicating efforts to pressure either side into accepting an eventual election defeat.

In any case, the process of re-establishing stability on the ground across the country will take many years, given the highly fragmented nature of the conflict, and the weakness of Libyan state structures (a legacy of the Qadhafi regime).

A vast number of councils and militias are competing for political influence and resources on the ground, and their alliances shift, based on factors such as economic incentives, religious ideologies, tribal affiliations, personal rivalries and ties with external backers.

These dynamics also mean that the risks of an eventual new agreement breaking down, and civil war-like conditions re-emerging, will remain elevated for years to come.


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