Libyan election postponed as UN-backed peace process stalls

Authority of interim government in doubt as old divisions and factions re-emerge

Tripoli:  Authorities overseeing Libya’s first presidential election have confirmed that holding it on December 24th  as scheduled is “impossible” and suggested a month-long delay. Photograph:  Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty

Tripoli: Authorities overseeing Libya’s first presidential election have confirmed that holding it on December 24th as scheduled is “impossible” and suggested a month-long delay. Photograph: Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty

 

Libya’s parliament said Friday’s planned presidential election would not go ahead, leaving the internationally-backed peace process in chaos and the fate of the interim government in doubt.

The electoral commission proposed pushing back the voting date by a month, confirming a delay that had been widely expected amid disputes over the rules, including the eligibility of several divisive candidates.

Disagreements showed the limitations of a winner-takes-all presidential vote involving candidates viewed as unacceptable in large parts of the country, including the son of the late ruler Muammar Gadafy and a military leader who assaulted Tripoli.

At stake is a peace process that had been seen as the best hope in years of bringing an end to the decade of chaos and violence that has engulfed Libya since a Nato-backed uprising ousted Gadafy in 2011.

Large numbers of Libyans had already registered for voting cards for the election in what politicians on all sides in Libya have said is a sign of strong popular desire for a vote. The US ambassador on Wednesday said work towards elections should remain a priority.

However, with mobilisations in Tripoli and other western areas by armed groups, the collapse of the electoral process risks aggravating local disputes and triggering a new round of fighting.

Disputes over the path forward could also undo the wider UN-backed peace process between Libya’s main eastern and western camps that have maintained a ceasefire since last year.

Renewed conflict could also lead to more frequent or extensive shutdowns in oil output by armed groups, hitting state finances. A group this week closed down three major fields.

Some figures in the east have warned of a new breakaway government that would return Libya to the division between warring administrations that lasted from the last election in 2014 until the installation of the current interim government.

Longer postponement

Turkey and regional adversaries that backed opposing sides in Libya have improved relations recently, easing the risk they will drive a return to war through local proxies, analysts say.

Factions, candidates and foreign powers have been talking behind the scenes about whether an election can still take place with a short delay or whether a longer postponement is necessary to reach agreement on the legal basis of the vote.

Meanwhile, the status of the interim government that was installed in March as part of the same peace process is also at risk, with the eastern-based parliament having withdrawn confidence from it in September.

The electoral committee’s statement on Wednesday added that the government’s mandate would expire on Friday. However, other main factions and political institutions may stick with the government, which is also recognised by the United Nations.

The election was originally called through a UN-backed roadmap that envisaged simultaneous parliamentary and presidential elections on December 24th – Libya’s national day.

However, there was no agreement on the constitutional basis for the election or on the rules among the fragmented political institutions. – Reuters