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Libya's electoral commission assesses problems that thwarted the elections

Following the failure of the elections, a report presented to Parliament by Imad al-Sayeh, head of the Libyan Electoral Commission, details the "obstacles" that prevented the elections from taking place and proposes a new date for polling day
Imad al-Sayeh

AFP/MAHMUD TURKIA  -   The head of Libya's national electoral commission, Imad al-Sayeh, gives a press conference in the capital Tripoli, 7 November 2021

The postponement of Libya's presidential and legislative elections, scheduled for 24 December, has put an end to optimism in the North African country. These elections, which were part of the UN-sponsored national reconciliation plan, were supposed to mark the end of the political transition and the establishment of peace and stability in Libya. However, the accumulation of "obstacles" and "difficulties" that the Supreme Electoral Commission of Libya has been facing since last September, has caused the 'sine die' delay of the election day.

This was stated in the report presented by Imad al-Sayeh, chairman of the Electoral Commission, in front of the House of Representatives in Tobruk. This document listed all the "obstacles" and causes of "force majeure" that have prevented the elections from being held, hindering the democratic and stabilising process in the country. Among the main causes highlighted by the official is the avalanche of applications received by the commission only 48 hours before the closing of the registration period. In the last two days, 60 potential candidates submitted their applications to run in the elections, which complicated the exhaustive review of all the applications, several of which were found to be fraudulent.

Moreover, as al-Sayeh warned a few days ago, the conflict between the political and judicial powers over the nomination of candidates "makes it impossible for the referendum to be held on the date set", referring to the cancellation of controversial candidacies such as those of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, Marshal Khalifa Haftar and the current prime minister, Abdel Hamid Dbeibé. However, the rejection of these three applications was appealed and, in the end, their candidacies were reinstated despite the fact that both Gaddafi and Haftar had been convicted of crimes against humanity and Dbeibé had not left office three months beforehand.

Parlamento de Libia
PHOTO/REUTERS  -  Libyan Parliament meets to discuss the approval of the new government, in Sirte, Libya, 8 March 2021

Indeed, these inconsistencies have been one of the main issues tarnishing the electoral process. Contradictory court rulings from one court to another on applicants' appeals have called into question the credibility and trustworthiness of the transitional procedure.

Finally, threats and warnings to the Supreme Electoral Commission that it would be raided if it published the final lists of candidates - on the date set in early December - turned the conduct of the elections into "an adventure", according to the commission's chairman. Al-Sayeh accused the parliament, the Presidential Council and the government of failing to openly take a stand against the harassment, while the interim speaker of parliament, Fawzi al-Nuwairi, defended himself by stating that the House "did not receive any official letter or request for assistance informing it that the commission was being threatened".

In order to move forward with the stabilisation and political transition plan in the country, the Electoral Commission has proposed that the new date for Election Day be moved to 24 January 2022. However, several members of the Libyan parliament have argued that one month is not enough time to solve all the problems that have prevented voting in December, and that the decision to postpone the elections until January is unrealistic. In practice, the final lists of candidates have not yet been published.

Elecciones Libia
AFP/MAHMUD TURKIA  -  File photo, polling station in Tripoli, 8 November 2021

Moreover, during this crucial parliamentary session, a House of Representatives committee set up to draft a roadmap following the failed elections has recommended the restructuring of the current Libyan government.

The Government of National Unity (GNU), headed by Abdul Hamid Dbeibé - who promised at the beginning of his term of office not to run in future elections - was designated at the beginning of 2021 as a transitional government whose mandate would come to an end with the holding of these elections. However, given this situation, the country now faces an uncertain future in which the Libyan parliament is considering three possible scenarios.

The first would be to hold elections within the next six months, maintaining the current government. The second scenario, the one most supported by many members of Parliament, would include the reorganisation of the entire incumbent executive, and the holding of an election within a period of more than a year, once a consensus has been reached on the electoral laws and the state institutions, currently divided between the east and west of the country, have been unified.

Abdul Hamid Dbeibé
AFP/MAHMUD TURKIA  -  Libya's Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibé

The third scenario would be the most complex and the one most feared by the Libyan public: a return to armed conflict in the country. The increase in military tension and the danger of a possible breakdown of the ceasefire, negotiated more than a year ago, after this electoral disappointment make this a plausible hypothesis if the interim government refuses to relinquish power in the event of being ousted or if the road map designed by the Parliament does not take into account the rest of the political parties.

If the possibility of these elections not taking place was an almost constant prediction since the beginning of the process, the Libyan authorities and the international community must now work together to establish a realistic timetable for holding the elections, launching the electoral campaign and reviewing the candidacies. Otherwise, the climate of violence that has already plagued the electoral process itself - through attempted sabotage, assaults on public institutions and the disappearance of ballot boxes - will continue to escalate.