While the reconciliation process has added a sense of optimism, several legal and security challenges remain, just months before the proposed elections in December.
After a decade of conflict, insecurity and political fragmentation, Libya could be looking at a more stable future and sustainable peace.
Libya has made reasonable progress in addressing the chaos and violence that emerged with the Arab uprisings in 2011. In October 2020, the two warring parties signed an official ceasefire agreement, which has broadly held so far, bringing about a reconciliation process designed to culminate in elections this coming December.
Despite the steps taken in recent months, there are a few prime considerations for the interim government: forcing out the foreign fighters and mercenaries, drafting a new constitution, and possibly holding elections by the end of the year.
On June 23, Germany and the UN hosted a follow-up to the January 2020 Berlin Peace Conference on Libya to discuss progress and ongoing challenges, seeking to build a stable and peaceful future.
The conference renewed pledges to hold elections in December to replace an interim government in Tripoli led by Prime Minister Abdel Hamid Dabaiba.
The final declaration called for the total departure of foreign fighters without further delay and for all sides to refrain from activities that exacerbate the conflict, including financing military facilities or recruiting foreign fighters and mercenaries.
Although many Libyans are eager to take to the polls, holding free and reliable elections requires a conducive political and security environment where all people can participate and engage in the political process and support paths of democratic transition.
Key challenger: Mercenaries
The presence of mercenaries, in particular, remains a significant security challenge and continues to impede progress toward holding national elections in December.
The power vacuum that occurred in the wake of Moammar Gaddafi’s death enabled various militia groups and mercenaries to gain a foothold in Libya. The unstable security environment, particularly in the east of the country, stands out, where thousands of irregular forces and mercenaries are reportedly based, moving around freely.
They are not part of any government organisation and could risk renewing the conflict.
From Turkey’s perspective, some countries that attended the Berlin conference failed to distinguish between Turkish forces on the ground and mercenaries and foreign fighters operating primarily under warlord Khalifa Haftar’s orders.
Turkish forces are there upon an official invitation by an internationally recognised, and United Nations-backed, government of Libya. Thus, the Turkish presence cannot be considered in the same light as foreign fighters in the country.
Since the November 2019 military agreement signed between Turkey and Libya, Ankara has been helping restructure the Libyan army and police forces and is engaged in the process of institution-building the country. Turkish forces are also helping prevent potential attacks by Haftar’s LNA.
Libya’s new internationally recognised government has offered assurances that the agreements are in place between Libya and Turkey. The prime minister of the GNU stated that these agreements fully correspond to the interests of Libya.
Some countries, including Russia and the UAE, have even refused to even acknowledge their presence in Libya — in fact they claim that they have no involvement in the Libyan conflict, despite UN reports saying otherwise. However, the Wagner Group, a private military company linked to the Kremlin, has reportedly been operating in Libya since September 2019.
Furthermore, a UN report said that the UAE has played a significant role in bringing hundreds of fighters from Sudan’s Darfur region to Libya to bolster Haftar’s LNA.
Libya’s rival factions have agreed for a vote on December 24, 2021. Yet enormous challenges remain in uniting the country and preparing for elections.
In this respect, following the Berlin conference, members of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) recently gathered in Switzerland to clear the way for national elections to be held on time.
The High National Election Commission (HNEC) has given a July 2021 deadline to the rival parties to agree on the constitutional foundations of the elections to avoid a delay to the December election.
Even though the participants of the Berlin conference expressed their support for the elections, Libyan delegates recently failed to agree on a legal framework to hold presidential and parliamentary elections.
There is disagreement, for example, on whether to hold a referendum on a draft constitution prior to the elections or pass a temporary law and postpone broader constitutional questions. Furthermore, questions about candidate eligibility, such as whether they can have multiple citizenships, have to be addressed.
Recently, the chairman of Libya’s High Council of State (HCS), Khalid al Mishri, said that Haftar lacks the legal prerequisites to get him on the ballots in December. According to an article from the draft constitution, those with dual citizenship cannot be candidates for the presidency.
More recently, there have been some media reports that some of the LPDF delegates submitted a proposal that demanded no conditions be placed on presidential candidates regarding multiple citizenships or military rank. This demand was seen as an attempt to create conditions for Haftar to be a potential future candidate.
However, many representatives of the LPDF reportedly rejected the proposal, as Haftar is regarded as unfit for running owing to his US citizenship and military rank.
Al Mishri said that Haftar sent his son to Geneva, specifically to pressure certain members of the LPDF to push for elections to take place without a constitution.
More recently, Haftar threatened a war if elections don’t take place in December, saying that his forces will be ready to begin another offensive on Tripoli.
Nevertheless, the current reconciliation process and the UN sponsorship have contributed to increased optimism about a return to stability.
Given that the Libyan people are exhausted after ten years of war, occupation, turmoil and chaos, the international community must take more concrete steps to provide a safe environment to secure the holding of elections and fulfil the aspirations of Libyans for a more prosperous future.
Ferhat Polat is a Deputy Researcher at the TRT World Research Centre. He is a PhD researcher in North African Studies at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies in Exeter with a particular focus on Turkish Foreign Policy.