A new push to convince chaos-stricken Libya’s rival factions to hold presidential and legislative elections this year was announced by the top United Nations diplomat in the country on Monday, but any optimism was dampened by a lack of details and continued disputes.
Abdoulaye Bathily, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ special representative for Libya, told the U.N. Security Council in New York that the latest initiative aims for elections within 10 months.
To date, he said, “the political process remains protracted and falls short of the aspirations of Libyans who seek to elect their leaders and reinvigorate their political institutions.”
“In short, Libyans are impatient,” he continued. “They question the will and desire of political actors to hold inclusive and transparent elections in 2023.”
Ravaged by civil war since 2011, oil-rich Libya is divided between rival governments. One is based in the capital Tripoli and is led by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah. The other is headed by Prime Minister Fathi Bashagha and is based in Sirte with a parliament in the eastern city of Tobruk.
A U.N.-brokered process installed an interim government — with Dbeibah at its head — in early 2021 to guide the country to elections later that year. The elections weren’t held following disagreements over several key issues, including the eligibility for presidential candidacy.
Bathily said Monday he was launching an initiative “aimed at enabling the organization and holding of presidential and legislative elections in 2023,” and plans to establish a high-level steering panel.
“The proposed mechanism will bring together all relevant Libyan stakeholders, including representatives of political institutions, major political figures, tribal leaders, civil society organizations, security actors, women, and youth representatives,” he said, without elaborating further.
Bathily and many international actors hope that elections could unify the divided nation. Those divisions have fueled violence between armed groups and driven untold numbers of unsafe journeys by boat from Libya across the Mediterranean. Many of the journeys end in drownings.
After the televised meeting, Security Council members held a closed discussion.
“We asked questions and now we are looking for the answers. So far everything is very vague,” Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador Dmitry Polansky said afterward. “We need to see the details, because the efforts to bring together various Libyan parties were taken before. They failed. So we want to understand what’s really different this time.”
Libya’s U.N. ambassador Taher El-Sonni, one of the few diplomats at the meetings whose government does not control all of the internationally recognized national territory, echoed the call for more.
“Everbody is waiting to see the details of the mechanism,” he said. “Everybody is agreeing on going towards elections … we’re hoping that this political momentum will take place.”
Associated Press writer Jack Jeffrey in Cairo contributed to this report.