Libya’s opposition parties have reached an agreement on legal steps to hold long-delayed elections in the troubled North African country, yet contentious issues blocking the democratic process remain unresolved, according to observers and a copy of the agreement seen by Al Jazeera.
A 6+6 committee from Libya’s two rival legislative bodies – the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HOR) and the Tripoli-based High Council of State (HCS) – agreed on draft laws for June 6 presidential and parliamentary elections. Ahead of the country’s current political crisis.
Libya has been in conflict for more than a decade since former strongman Muammar Gaddafi was ousted during the Arab Spring in 2011, with rival factions vying for power. By 2015, two legislative bodies were formed, and the struggle over Libya’s governance and resources has continued ever since.
While welcoming the progress, UN envoy Abdoulaye Bathili warned the Security Council on Monday that “fundamental issues remain firmly contested”, blocking the path to a “final settlement” and harboring the possibility of a new crisis in the divided country.
He added that he wanted to tackle “serious flaws and technical flaws” in the draft law and intensify discussions to make it “workable” and enforceable to regulate “successful elections”.
The current political crisis stems from the failure to hold elections on December 24, 2021 and the refusal to resign by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dweibah, who heads the interim government of National Unity (GNU) in the capital Tripoli.
In response, the country’s eastern-based parliament appointed a rival prime minister, Fathi Bashagha, who has spent months trying to establish his government in Tripoli.
Observers told Al Jazeera that many of the contested issues that hijacked the democratic process in 2021 were still unresolved.
Tim Eaton, senior research fellow at Chatham House, told Al Jazeera, “Bathili is rightly targeting the concerns of an electoral program that is not acceptable across the political spectrum and risks sowing further division.”
“Obviously his calculation is that he needs to get a broader agreement on what happens next and the challenge is being able to do that. [and] Go ahead,” Eaton said.
Qualifications of Presidential Candidates
One of the major hurdles in the democratic process is reaching an agreement on the eligibility criteria for presidential candidates.
Azzedine Guerbi, a member of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HOR) who took part in talks in Bouznica, Morocco, before the deal, told Al Jazeera that both sides agreed that candidates with military ties should automatically resign from their posts.
A copy of the text obtained by Al Jazeera says that once a nomination is accepted, the presidential runner is “deemed by force of law to be disqualified from their profession or position”.
However, no additional provision has been made to ensure that a candidate cannot resume their post after the completion of the selection process.
Libya expert and Associate Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) Jalel Harchawi told Al Jazeera that failure to address the issue presents clear dangers.
“If you lose, you can go back to the military and build a force to go after the winner,” Harchawi said. “It shouldn’t be possible.”
Similarly, the draft law requires dual citizens to provide a “statement certified by the embassy of the donor country evidencing the filing of the final renunciation of citizenship. [the second] country”, but does not specify the process for verifying compliance.
According to Eaton at Chatham House, the debate over presidential eligibility criteria has been cut short by the preoccupation of Tobruk-based Libyan National Army (LNA) commander Khalifa Haftar, who also holds US citizenship.
“The United Nations previously felt that agreement could be reached in this area, so I think it’s a question of whether this agreement is being put in place to prevent a political process or whether it’s a real issue of controversy that can’t be navigated.” Eaton Dr.
The new interim government
Among the provisions that Bathili raised as concerns was the need to form a new government before the elections.
According to Harchawi, Bathili “knows that if a new government is installed, that government will do everything in its power to thwart the election and stay in power as long as possible.”
Additionally, the definition of a “new” government was still up for debate. “If Abdul Hamid Dweebah reshuffles his ministry and implements major changes, will there be a new government even if he remains prime minister?” Dr. Harchawi.
Debeiba’s rivals, including HR Speaker Aguila Saleh and the Egyptian government, have maintained that she will quit.
Eaton said the emphasis on forming an interim government again begs the question of whether the issue “hides the reluctance of existing elites to create a new mechanism that could lead to their replacement.”
“Some argument for their removal [Government of National Unity (GNU)] Fair from its privileged position, but if they form an interim government we will probably see the end of the election talks,” added the analyst.
Second round of voting
“The link between presidential and parliamentary elections” was identified by the UN envoy as potentially problematic.
According to Harchawi, the criteria for determining whether there would be a second round of voting was very unclear. “Even if a candidate wins with an absolute majority in the first round, there is still a mechanism to force a second round,” he said.
Additionally, provisions of the draft law also risked canceling parliamentary elections if the first round of presidential polls were not held or completed.
The parliamentary vote taking place at the same time as the second round of the presidential election exposes the possibility of the legislative vote being hijacked by presidential candidates unhappy with their performance in the first round, analysts said.
Bathili warned that these contested issues could possibly drag the electoral process as late as 2021, “leading to further polarization and even destabilization of the country”.
He said Libya had “once again reached a critical point”.
“Successful elections require not only a legal framework, but also a political agreement that ensures buy-in and inclusion of all key stakeholders.”