By Alexander A. Decina, Darine El Hage and Nathaniel L. Wilson

Libyans need new elections to produce a competent and electorally legitimate government that the international community can support in navigating the myriad challenges the country faces….That said, elections themselves present a major risk.


Recommendations to the International Community

With respect to addressing and mitigating electoral violence, and to ensuring that the subsequent government can undertake the mantle of governance and state-building, this report offers the following recommendations to the international community—primarily the United States, Europe, and regional countries supporting UNSMIL’s efforts:

  • Support alternatives that delay elections.

Because hastily held elections portend greater violence and contestation, the international community should ensure that conducive conditions for durable elections are in place; otherwise, it would be better to support alternatives that delay elections until minimal conditions are in place.

One such alternative could be encouraging the HoR and the HCS to come to an agreement to form a technocratic interim government that restructures or replaces the GNA. This new interim government would need to pull more competing militias under its umbrella—crucially Misratan militias, Tripoli militias, and the LNA.

This would enable it to work toward compromises on a constitution (perhaps implementing the July 2017 draft or perhaps pressing the CDA to come to a new draft that will be more amenable to competing parties), lay the groundwork for more meaningful security-sector reform, and support and facilitate HNEC and international efforts to undertake proper preparations for a future election.

This endeavor, however, will undoubtedly be no more successful than the GNA if it is not accompanied by far greater international consolidation and coordination.

  • Strengthen international coordination.

The international community needs to more deliberately coordinate its approach to support UNSMIL’s efforts and engage with Libyans across the country in a manner that strengthens those working toward unity and prevents spoilers.

Such efforts could take the form of more formal coordination mechanisms to facilitate the international community’s efforts to work in tandem and more effectively engage with Libyans while preventing competing factions from spoiling.

In the absence of such coordination, UNSMIL’s initiatives will be less effective, and spoilers will be far more inclined to disrupt the electoral process and crucial state-building measures.

In line with a more coordinated approach, oil sales should be conducted only through the internationally recognized government’s National Oil Company in Tripoli as per UN Security Council Resolution 2146, and arms transfers should be conducted only pending approvals by the Committee of the UN Security Council established by UN Security Council Resolutions

1970 and other related resolutions.

If after the elections a viable new government is formed—or if the UN Support Mission and the international community recognize a newly formed interim government in lieu of elections—then it, in turn, should be the only entity provided oil contracts and military transfers.

The international community should denounce and pursue secondary sanctions against any country that provides material support to militias and warlords outside these boundaries.

  • Support the National Conference.

The international community should provide vocal support for the UN Support Mission’s National Conference. The conference can serve to advance high-level reconciliation and consensus-building efforts needed for reaching a constitution (assuming the current draft cannot move forward) and making progress on security-sector reform.

The forum can also serve to complement grassroots and mid-level reconciliation initiatives as well as civic education initiatives that civil society organizations are already undertaking.

The more engagement disparate Libyan communities have with one another, and the sooner they have it, the less likely they will be to spoil elections and the peace process.

As Libya prepares for elections, a successful conference in which competing factions feel they can fairly participate can make for greater cooperation with the HNEC, greater voter turnout, and fewer boycotting members when results are announced.

Countries supporting the UN Support Mission should strongly encourage Salamé to provide additional details of the conference’s next phases and begin holding it in full as far in advance of elections as possible.

They should also strongly voice their expectation that the National Conference continue after elections to give Libyans an ongoing forum to discuss crucial state-building issues alongside any fledgling government that works toward resolving them.

  • Provide robust and informed technical and civil society assistance.

Leading up to and during elections, the international community should offer robust and informed technical support to the High National Election Commission. This should include technical assistance for the HoR-HCS joint committee in developing a simplified election law and working with the HNEC to bolster its tabulation system to ensure accuracy and transparency.

The international community should also work with civil society organizations to strengthen their capacities to engage in civic education and conflict mitigation efforts during the election cycle.

Beyond training and support for actors engaged in the electoral process, Libya will also need a significant presence of international observers to discourage violations.

This training and these observers may or may not succeed in strengthening technical aspects of the electoral process, but at the very least they can send a message.

Libyan factions—especially those that have sought, and will continue to seek, international support—must see that the international community is watching Libya’s elections and is expecting them to be held in accordance with the election laws and unimpeded by violence.

  • Navigate security challenges.

The lack of security across Libya presents a major challenge as the country approaches elections. Because Libya has no consolidated security apparatus, protecting election sites will require ad hoc arrangements with an array of militias, and yet providing these fighters with additional support may make them less likely to compromise.

To navigate this challenge, the international community should ensure that the support it provides—material or otherwise—is commensurate with recipient militias’ levels of cooperation with UNSMIL initiatives and HNEC operations, and with their participation in ongoing security sector reform talks and local reconciliation agreements.

If the international community does find militias that are adequately cooperative, it should provide them with training on how to protect candidates, political party property, polling places, and voters while clearly and forcefully articulating that it expects them to allow the HNEC to operate independently and without impediments.

If it cannot find cooperative militias, the failure should signal that conditions are not right for elections, and the international community should refrain from providing support to competing nonstate actors.

  • Stay engaged after elections.

Even if elections are held with few disruptions, Libya will still face profound challenges—not the least of which will be reconciling competing political actors, establishing a constitution (if one is not enacted before elections), and undertaking security-sector reform.

First, the international community should impose sanctions on actors who boycott the newly formed parliament or otherwise seek to undermine the new government.

Second, if a constitution is not in place before elections, members of the international community should make clear that they expect the newly formed parliament to agree on a constitution that is structured to be as inclusive as possible and seeks to mitigate zero-sum calculi that will undermine the Libyan state.

Third, the international community should also pressure Libyans to make progress on security-sector reform. Meaningful reform will be immensely challenging and take years to accomplish, but in the short term, the international community can and should clearly articulate that militias’ willingness to cooperate and facilitate the election process will in large part determine how supportive outside powers will be in securing their future place within the new government’s security apparatus.

The international community should condition the extent and nature of its support for any new government based on that government’s willingness to undertake genuine efforts to make progress on these crucial state-building issues.

  • Develop a Plan B.

The international community should prepare for the real possibility that elections could prompt another, more intense phase of violence.

Should this happen, the LPA, as it stands, will not be an adequate basis to resolve the conflicts between competing factions and coalesce the rival governments—the mandates of which are all expired or in question.

The UN Support Mission in Libya will need more coordinated support as it recalibrates the negotiations and tries to determine which Libyans to engage in talks and how best to engage with them.

To support UNSMIL in these efforts, members of the international community need to be more proactively but also more consistently involved.

They need to learn to better engage with Libya, not as a single entity but as what is effectively a semi-fragmented state. However, at the same time, they need to engage with different localities in a cohesive manner that preserves, rather than undermines, the durability of any settlements and the viability of the state.

If the international community fails to consolidate and coordinate its policies, UNSMIL’s efforts will be ineffective, and Libya’s turmoil will continue. Libya, its neighbors, and other countries in the region and beyond will suffer the consequences.

The End


Alexander A. Decina is an Amman-based analyst and Boren Fellow focused on conflicts throughout the Middle East and North Africa with particular attention to factional dynamics, security and political developments, and diplomatic efforts in Libya and Syria. A Middle East and North Africa consultant, he conducts predictive and diagnostic analysis on conflicts across the region for private-sector clientele. Previously, Decina was a research associate for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. Prior to that, he worked with think tanks and NGOs in Lebanon and Iraqi Kurdistan.

Darine El Hage is a regional program manager for North Africa at USIP’s Center for Middle East and Africa based in Tunis, Tunisia. Nathaniel L. Wilson is a program officer covering Libya for USIP, leading its programming in rule of law and local reconciliation peacebuilding initiatives.


About the Report

This report examines the risks for violence surrounding Libya’s presidential and parliamentary elections slated to be held in 2018 or 2019. Funded by the United States Institute of Peace, the report is based on research and interviews with government officials, nongovernment experts, and practitioners in and outside Libya.


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