“We want these elections to be part of the solution and not be part of the problem,” Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said.
“And so, we will be doing everything to facilitate a dialogue, allowing for the questions that still correspond to, I would say, irritants that might divide Libya to be solved, for the elections to be done in a way that contributes to the solution of the Libyan problem,” he said.
The current president of the Security Council, Abdou Abarry of Niger, was more forthright in his criticism of the election, the first to be held since the uprising that toppled former strongman Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
“The conditions of free, credible, democratic, consensual elections, an important link for the return of peace and stability in Libya, have not yet been met,” said Abarry, emphasising that he was speaking as his country’s ambassador to the UN, not as head of the Security Council.
He said that of the more than 20,000 mercenaries and foreign soldiers identified by the UN in Libya, “there are between 11,000 and 12,000 Sudanese” and “a few thousand” from countries in the Sahel region.
“As a neighbouring country, we want there to be a process of demobilisation, done in perfect harmony with the neighboring countries from which these forces originate,” he said.
“The situation is not mature enough to allow a type of elections that can lead to lasting stability and security in Libya, ” he said.
Abarry hinted that he did not share the position of those diplomats — whom he did not identify — who say that “at all costs you have to go to elections regardless of their quality.”
With less than a month to go before the election, the final list of candidates has not yet been made due to multiple appeals filed. Out of a population of seven million, some 2.4 million Libyans have received their voter cards.
Libya on bumpy road to uncertain elections
Libya is less than a month from elections seen as crucial to ending its long-running civil war, but deep political divisions could provoke a delay or even fresh violence.
In theory, the North African country is preparing to draw a line under a decade of conflict since the 2011 overthrow of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in a NATO-backed uprising.
Western officials have talked up a UN-led peace process and insist on “inclusive” and “credible” elections starting on December 24, despite serious disputes over how they should be held.
Libya’s electoral commission has said it is ready to organise the process and has published an initial list of candidates and handed out voting cards.
The United Nations has said that nine international organisations have sought accreditations to observe the conduct of the vote.
But despite a year of relative calm since an October 2020 ceasefire between rival eastern and western camps, Libya’s deep political divisions remain.
Analysts warn that violence could easily flare again.
“The electoral process imposed by the (eastern-based) parliament is so fragile, incomplete and dysfunctional and institutions in (the capital) Tripoli (in western Libya) are so eaten away by political factionalism that the dynamics of violence and polarisation are bound to come back before December 24,” said Libya expert Jalel Harchaoui.
“That’s almost certain, even assuming that the vote somehow takes place.”
– ‘Vague electoral law’ –
On Monday, gunmen backing eastern military chief Khalifa Haftar blocked roads leading to a court in the southern city of Sebha that had been set to examine an appeal by Seif al-Islam Gaddafi after he was barred from running for president.
Seif al-Islam is the second son of the ousted dictator, who was slain in the 2011 revolt.
The interim government in Tripoli said it was following the situation in Sebha with “great concern”.
But as forces led by Haftar – himself a presidential hopeful – dominate eastern Libya and much of the sparsely populated south, there was little the Tripoli-based administration could do to intervene.
That was the latest in a string of ominous events that have overshadowed preparations for the polls and threaten to spark renewed violence.
With just weeks to go, the list of candidates has yet to be finalised, with question marks also hanging over bids by key players Haftar and interim Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeibah.
On Tuesday, Interior Minister Khaled Mazen warned that the presidential election might have to be delayed if “violations” threatening the electoral process do not stop.
“The continued obstruction of security plans, and worsening violations and abuses… will directly impact the conduct of the elections and our commitment to holding them on time,” Mazen said.
“We must not continue on a path that would lead to the deterioration of the security situation until it is out of control.”
Claudia Gazzini, a Libya expert at the International Crisis Group, said: “At the base of all these problems there is a vague electoral law and its contradictions.”
Parliament speaker Aguila Saleh sparked controversy in early September when he signed off the bill without a vote in the assembly, putting into law a piece of legislation critics say was custom-made for his ally, Haftar.
In late September, the parliament based in the eastern city of Tobruk, itself well past its mandate, passed a vote of no confidence in the interim government.
– Security worries –
This month, notables in several cities called for a boycott and several voting offices were shut down by groups hostile to Gaddafi’s candidacy, preventing voters collecting their voting cards.
As Libya’s main political players wrangle, the security situation on the ground, controlled by an array of militias and foreign forces, has voters asking whether they will be able to cast their ballots in safety.
And even though 2.4 million voting cards have been collected in the country of seven million, some voters have arrived at voting offices to find their cards have already been picked up by someone else.
“Nobody seriously has any illusion that security will be guaranteed at every voting station in Libya,” Harchaoui said.
“In any scenario, there will be fraud, boycotts, blockades, voter intimidation and clashes. The most optimistic scenario is that these irregularities aren’t too spectacular or big.”
Gazzini said: “It is very unlikely that the elections will take place – but a coalition of people on the international level continues to insist that they must happen on December 24”.
If they do, the results are “completely unpredictable”, she added.
Libya ‘violations’ risk vote delay: interior minister
The warning comes a day after the government and the UN expressed concern over an intimidation campaign that has shut the court where the son of slain dictator Muammar Gaddafi tried to appeal his rejected presidential bid.
The December 24 polls come as part of a push to end a decade of violence in oil-rich Libya following a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed Gaddafi in 2011.
“The continued obstruction of security plans, and worsening violations and abuses… will directly impact the conduct of the elections and our commitment to holding them on time,” Mazen told reporters in the capital Tripoli.
In theory, the North African country is preparing to draw a line under a decade of conflict since its 2011 revolution.
But despite a year of relative calm since a landmark ceasefire between rival eastern and western camps, Libya’s deep political divisions remain.
“We must not continue on a path that would lead to the deterioration of the security situation until it is out of control,” Mazen said, speaking alongside the justice minister.
He warned that the current circumstances would not permit elections to take place “normally”.
Unsuccessful applicants were given 48 hours to appeal in court.
But hours before Seif al-Islam was expected to submit his documents, a “group of outlaws” launched an “odious” attack on the court in the southern city of Sebha, the government said.
On Tuesday, the judicial commission responsible for examining Seif al-Islam’s appeal said it had suspended any ruling on the appeal indefinitely.
Both presidential and legislative polls had been slated for December 24, but in early October parliament split the dates, postponing the legislative elections until January.
The path to the ballot box has been lined with disputes over the constitutional basis for the polls and the powers to be given to whoever wins.