Since the Libyan Electoral Commission announced the opening of the registration period for the upcoming elections, several prominent candidates have filed their candidacy. The elections, scheduled for 24 December, are the first to be held in Libya since independence from Italy in 1951. They could also usher in a new era in Libya, which has been plunged into instability since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Since that year, Libyan society has known nothing but violence and insecurity. Likewise, the civilian population has seen how their country has become a chessboard for some international powers to try to increase their influence in the region. In this regard, the high number of foreign mercenaries in Libya is noteworthy, a problem that the next government will have to address.
However, in the midst of this chaotic situation, in October 2020 an event took place that gave hope to the Libyan population. The Government of National Accord (GNA) and the National Army (LNA), led by Marshal Khalifa Haftar, agreed to a permanent ceasefire. The UN considered this development as a "fundamental step towards peace and stability". Now, with the upcoming elections in December, Libya hopes to continue on this path towards harmony and security.
Among the candidates are key figures on the Libyan political scene. There are contenders from both sides and even the former Gaddafi regime is present through his son.
The Libyan marshal and leader of the LNA resigned from his military post last September in order to run in the elections. According to a law passed by parliamentary president Aguilah Saleh, who is also a candidate in the elections, aspirants must leave their posts three months before the elections. If they ultimately fail to win the necessary votes to become president, they will be able to return to their respective posts.
Despite announcing his resignation in September, Haftar officially submitted his candidacy on 16 November. Speaking on a television programme, the marshal said he was running to "lead our people to glory, progress and prosperity". Haftar said he is not "chasing power". The marshal is the only one capable of leading Libya out of the crisis that has engulfed the country since the uprisings that toppled Gaddafi.
The 78-year-old general from Ajdabiya (Cyrenaica) has been present at several key moments in Libya's history. He supported Gaddafi during the 1969 Green Revolution against King Idris I, but also lived through the end of the former Libyan leader.
After overthrowing Idris I, Gaddafi appointed Haftar as Chief of Army Staff. The Marshal graduated from the Benghazi Military University Academy in 1966, although he was also trained in the Soviet Union. Subsequently, during the Libyan-Chadian conflict between 1978 and 1987, he was the commander of the national forces.
However, this war was his fall from grace. Haftar was defeated and captured by French-backed Chadian forces. In addition to being a prisoner of war, the marshal was accused of tradition by his own country for abandoning the troops. After several years in prison, he was released in 1990 and went into exile in the United States, specifically in the state of Virginia, close to the CIA in Langley. For this reason, analysts and experts have claimed that Haftar began to cooperate with the intelligence agency to bring down the Gaddafi regime.
The marshal decided to return to his country via Egypt in 2011, when the uprisings that would bring about the end of Gaddafi began. After the fall of the Libyan leader, Haftar's trail was lost for a few years, until 2014, when he announced his plan to 'save the nation'. That year he launched Operation Dignity in the eastern city of Benghazi against Islamist and Muslim Brotherhood-linked groups. Haftar's aim was to "end the Islamists' control of the state". The LNA succeeded in driving them out of the city and other key strongholds in 2016. Within this conflict, Haftar has received support from several countries, including Russia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Egypt and France.
Having defeated much of the Islamist factions in the country, Haftar now aspires to become president. "I call on all Libyans to make the right decision, one that they will not regret," he said after presenting his candidacy.
The current GNA prime minister has also chosen to run in the elections, despite legal obstacles. As noted above, candidates must step down three months before the elections, yet Dbeibe remains in office.
The 62-year-old businessman and engineer comes from a wealthy family in the coastal city of Misurata. Dbeibe was educated at Canada's University of Toronto and before Gaddafi's fall ran a number of oil-related businesses, reports AFP. He was also in charge of the Development and Investment Company and oversaw construction projects in places such as Al Jufrah and Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte.
After the triumph of the revolution against the former leader, Dbeibe decided to go into politics. This career led him to become prime minister in 2021 for a period of 10 months, until elections are held.
Like the LNA, Dbeibe's government (GNA) has received foreign support. In this case, mainly Turkey and Qatar. The current prime minister has a good relationship with Ankara, which he has called "an ally of our country". "Turkey is an ally, a friend and a fraternal state, and it has enormous capabilities to help the Libyans achieve their real goals," he said in an interview with Turkey's Anadolu Agency in February. Dbeibe also recalled that Turkey "was the only country where Libyans could travel freely during the war". He also called for economic and trade cooperation between the two countries.
On the other hand, Dbeibe stated in August that he had no objections to meeting with his challenger, Haftar, as long as the marshal recognises him as head of the executive, as reported by Europa Press. Regarding Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, Dbeide said that "he is a Libyan citizen and the son of an important tribe in Libya". The prime minister stressed that he had "no objection to the candidacy of any citizen who has no legal problems" during an interview with the Libya Observer. Gaddafi's son is accused by the International Criminal Court of crimes against humanity.
Speculation about the possible candidacy of the former Libyan leader's son began in July, following an interview in The New York Times. During the conversation with the US newspaper, he presented himself as "the saviour of the country" and accused Libyan politicians of "only bringing misery". Four months later, Saif al-Islam presented his candidacy at the Electoral Management Office in Sabha, in the south of the country. Sabha is considered the stronghold of the Qadhadhafa tribe, which is linked to Gaddafi's family.
Saif al-Islam was born in 1972 and studied at the prestigious London School of Economics. When the revolution against Qadhafi began, he joined the campaign to suppress the demonstrations, despite being known at the time for his reformist views.
This candidacy has created controversy because of the legal cases behind Saif al-Islam's back. Gaddafi's son was sentenced to death in 2015 for 'killing protesters during the Libyan uprising', although he was spared because the militias that captured him handed him over to Haftar. Subsequently, more recent cases include arrest warrants from the Libyan Prosecutor's Office for an alleged link to Russian mercenaries. Several US reports have accused Russia of supporting Saif al-Islam.
In addition to domestic cases, since 2011 he has had a warrant for his arrest by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. This warrant remains in place despite his running for election, according to the ICC spokesperson.
Since 2014 Saleh has been the first speaker of the Libyan House of Representatives. The lawyer, a graduate of Benghazi University, became chief prosecutor in 1974. Subsequently, in 1999 he became head of the Judicial Inspection Department at the Court of Appeals in the eastern coastal city of Derna. After the 2011 uprisings he joined the Judiciary Committee to investigate corruption cases during the Qadhafi era, until he was elected Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Saleh supports Marshal Haftar, although there are rumours of possible differences between them. Egypt has acted as a mediator between the two by organising several sessions to bring their views closer together. Among these meetings, the most prominent occurred last July, and was described as a "sudden reconciliation" meeting.
Pasha Agha, who hails from Misura, was appointed interior minister in Fayez al-Sarraj's government in 2019. Prior to his career in politics, he was appointed as a pilot instructor, although he has also worked in the commercial sector with companies such as International Trading Company.
The former minister survived an assassination attempt in February 2021 in Tripoli; earlier in his tenure, he was arrested in August 2020 on charges of violently suppressing ongoing protests in the capital.
Libya's former ambassador to the United Arab Emirates announced his candidacy via his Facebook page last October. Nayed was in Abu Dhabi from 2011 to 2016, and is a supporter of Haftar.
The Benghazi-born diplomat has extensive international experience. He studied Islamic philosophy, theology and religion at the University of Toronto and the Gregorian University in Rome. In the Italian capital and in the UAE, he also taught Islamic philosophy, theology and religion. He also participated in the Interfaith Dialogue Programme at Cambridge University.