The appointment of an interim government brought hope to the Libyan people, yet political tensions remain high. There are numerous challenges that could impact the elections scheduled in December, further threatening the chance of a peaceful future for Libya.
Animosity remains high between Libya’s warring factions. The High Council of State has denounced a military parade in Benghazi on May 29, saying it was organized by what it called “irregular and illegal forces led by war criminal Khalifa Haftar.”
For his part, Haftar said there is no peace with terrorists and the war is not over. Meanwhile, the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum failed to reach an agreement on a constitutional basis for the scheduled December elections.
A formal truce last October set in motion a UN-led process that created an interim government. The body is tasked with unifying the country’s divided institutions, launching reconstruction efforts, and preparing for the December vote.
Libyans are anxiously looking forward to implementation of the political roadmap, culminating with those elections scheduled for December 24. But several challenges are clouding the horizon of reaching a political solution for the decade-long Libyan conflict.
“Haftar’s military parade was certainly to underline that he still has influence and also to demonstrate the unity and the military power of the East,” Pusztai told Inside Arabia. “During his speech, Haftar pledged his full support for the elections in December, but at the same time, he demanded the dissolution of all armed groups in Tripoli and threatened again to use force to achieve this.”
On the political side, Pusztai said that the failure of the legal committee of the Libyan Political Dialogue to reach a final agreement for the elections is a bad omen. “Some members believe that the Libyan people should directly elect the new president, while others see that the parliament should elect the president. Thus, Libya is certainly at a make-or-break time right now,” he explained.
UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Libya, Jan Kubis, recently reiterated the need to focus discussions on the “constitutional basis for elections,” especially regarding the method of electing the president and eligibility criteria.
Kubis warned that it is unacceptable to hinder the political transition, noting that it will be evaluated as such by the Libyan people and the international community.
Spoilers of the Election
There is very strong international pressure from the UN, the US, and European countries to conduct the elections, but Pusztai suggests there are many in Libya that are benefiting from the current situation.
“This includes the House of Representatives and the Higher Council of State who could certainly not get re-elected; . . . the militias in Tripoli and in Misrata as well as the Libyan National Army of Khalifa Haftar in the east, who could lose their powerful influence after the elections; and . . . all the current members of the government,” Pusztai said.
“Turkey can also live very well with the current government as we can see by the numerous economic contracts signed recently in Istanbul and Ankara,” he added. This appears to be true as these parties have not, at least publicly, moved with urgency to help establish all the preconditions for the elections.
Rhiannon Smith, Managing Editor of the London-based Libya Analysis, believes that the continued presence of foreign fighters in Libya is an added spoiler of the December elections. “If you’ve got foreign forces on the ground, the ability for these tensions to go back into conflict becomes much more present,” she told Inside Arabia.
“In addition, it’s difficult to have free and fair elections when you have military forces on the ground who could quite easily obstruct, intimidate, and put pressure on voters,” Smith said.
The US Renews Its Role
Following a salvo of statements from the Biden administration calling for an immediate withdrawal of foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya and expressing support for the political process in the war-torn country, the US named its Ambassador to Libya, Richard Norland, as a special envoy to lead diplomatic efforts for the transition.
Smith welcomes the renewed commitment. “Certainly the US can play a role in helping to facilitate that political process in Libya because if it’s perceived that the US is serious about putting on pressure and really pushing for these elections, then it is likely that some of the Libyan actors will see that it is in their best interests to follow through,” Smith added.
“Some of these actors may fear that the US could implement sanctions or take some kind of action. So while the US alone can’t force elections to happen, if the high-level political engagement from the US on this front continues, it will certainly help to facilitate that political process.”
Yet, Smith warns, if there’s no follow-through and the US doesn’t do anything to prevent obstructions to the elections, this process will just drag on and the vote will either be delayed or completely derailed.
International Support is Needed
Germany’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that Berlin will host another round of peace talks on June 23 and that for the first time it will be attended by the transitional Government of National Unity.
The ministry stated that the next steps needed to achieve sustained stability will be on preparing for the elections and facilitating the withdrawal of foreign soldiers and mercenaries from Libya, with the hope of unifying security forces.
Special Envoy Kubis said the upcoming ministerial meeting of the Berlin Process will assess progress or lack thereof. And Pusztai explained what is required for its success:
“This conference is an important element within Europe’s attempt to play a more significant role in Libya. The international community could certainly help to prepare the ground for the elections to make them as best organized as possible, and which is probably even more important to support their credibility, by monitoring the elections.”
He added, “If the conference has the ambition to achieve an agreement on the withdrawal of foreign forces and mercenaries, it will fail, because neither Turkey nor the Russian mercenaries will leave Libya in the mid-term voluntarily or as an outcome of the Berlin conference.”
Pusztai foresees a couple of different scenarios if the Libyan election is not held on time. The best one, he says, would be “an agreement between the House of Representatives in consent with the High Council of State within the next few weeks about an interim constitutional basis for the elections. This should allow elections as scheduled on December 24 or one or two months later.”
The other possibility, Pusztai added, “would be a referendum about the draft constitution which would lead to a long postponement of the elections. This would leave Libya with the National Unity Government for years to come which is probably Turkey’s preferred solution.”
According to Pustazi, such a move would increase differences between the parliament and the government over time, and also the tensions between the regions, ultimately leading “again to major deterioration of the security situation.”
Most of all, Pusztai fears a scenario in which there would be no agreement at all. This would mean that December would pass without a fixed election date and without preconditions for elections, causing the National Unity Government to continue to serve and ultimately lose its legitimacy.
This, he believes, is the most likely and most dangerous outcome as it could lead to a renewed outbreak of major hostilities in Libya.