As Libyans plan to go to polls on December 24, doubts abound as to what the outcome of the elections will be owing to the volatility of the state.
Two elections will be held at about the same time; the presidential and parliamentary elections.
Since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi’s administration in 2011, Libya has been a conflict zone. Libya has remained a fragmented state burdened with conflicts between the eastern and western regions.
The fall of Mr Gaddafi saw the proliferation of heavily armed non-state actors. Many of those fighters are still in Libya but others like the Tuaregs who fought alongside Mr Gaddafi returned to Mali where they launched an insurrection against the Malian state. The situation in Libya and Mali is believed to have contributed to the worsening security situation in sub-Saharan Africa.
The international community pushed for parliamentary and presidential elections as key elements of the UN-backed process to bring peace and stability to Libya.
Libya, a Northern Africa country with a population of about 7.1 million people, is one of Africa’s oil-rich nations. It became an independent state in 1951 and a member of the Arab League in 1953. It was referred to as a poor nation until the discovery of petroleum in the late 1950s.
The oil-rich nation has been split between a government in the east, backed by the renegade commander, Khalifa Haftar, and a UN-brokered administration in Tripoli, aided by Western-backed Libyan armed groups.
The December 24 election is expected to bring an end to the decade long violent chaos in Libya. However, the list of candidates vying for the highest seat of power in the country raises more questions than answers.
Analysts, critical of the process, are sceptical about holding an election in the country given its current state.
The President of Libya is elected through a two-round system for a five-year term.
The two-round system is a voting method used to elect a single candidate, where voters cast a single vote for their preferred candidate. The election proceeds to a second-round only if in the first round, no candidate receives a simple majority (more than 50 per cent) of votes cast or at least some other prescribed percentage.
Usually, only the two candidates who received the most votes in the first round, or those candidates who received above a prescribed proportion of the votes will be candidates in the second round.
The first round of the presidential election will be held on December 24.
The second round, as well as the parliamentary elections, are set to take place 50 days later. All final results will be announced simultaneously.
According to Ján Kubiš, the United Nations special envoy, who recently resigned, the political climate remains “heavily polarised” ahead of the presidential and parliamentary polls.
Even though Libyans are eager to cast their votes, “vocal opposition” persists surrounding the legal framework for the elections, said Mr Kubiš.
Despite the red flags, more than 2.8 million of Libya’s seven million population have registered to vote, representing about 30 per cent of the Libyan population.
More than 3,200 domestic observers, 320 national media representatives, 20 international media, and nine international observation organisations have applied for HNEC accreditation.
Registration for parliamentary elections ended on December 7 while registration for the presidential election ended a few days before.
So far, more than 2,000 people, including 276 women, have stepped forward as candidates.
The contenders for the soul of Libya
There are 98 candidates justling to be Libya’s next president, including two women: Laila Ben Khalifa, the leader of the National Movement Party in Libya and Hunaida Al Mahdi who is a researcher in social sciences.
Out of the 98 Libyans who registered to run for the election, 25 have been disqualified including Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, Muammar Gaddafi’s son who was perceived as a major contender. This decision is pending an appeals process that will ultimately be decided by the judiciary.
The major contenders in the election include Khalifa Haftar, self-proclaimed field marshal and controversial ruler in eastern Libya; Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the second eldest son of the former ruler, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity; parliamentary Speaker Aguila Saleh, and interim prime minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah.
Field Marshal Khalifa Belqasim Haftar born November 7, 1943, is a Libyan-American politician, military officer and commander of the Tobruk-based Libyan National Army (LNA). On March 2, 2015, he was appointed commander of the armed forces loyal to the elected legislative body, the Libyan House of Representatives.
Mr Haftar was born in the Libyan city of Ajdabiya. He served in the Libyan army under Muammar Gaddafi and took part in the coup that brought Mr Gaddafi to power in 1969. He took part in the Libyan contingent against Israel in the Yom Kippur War of 1973.
In 1987, he became a prisoner of war during the war against Chad after being lured into a trap and captured, which was then a major embarrassment for Mr Gaddafi and represented a major blow to Mr Gaddafi’s ambitions in Chad. While being held prisoner, he and his fellow officers formed a group hoping to overthrow Mr Gaddafi. He was released around 1990 in a deal with the United States government and spent nearly two decades living in the U.S. in Langley, Virginia, where he is believed to have gained U.S. citizenship.
Mr Haftar recently denied being a citizen of the United States in a bid not to lose his presidential bid.
In 1993, while living in the United States, he was convicted in absentia for crimes against the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya and sentenced to death.
Mr Haftar held a senior position among the forces that overthrew Mr Gaddafi in 2011, during the First Libyan Civil War. In 2014, he was commander of the Libyan Army when the General National Congress (GNC) refused to give up power in accordance with its term of office.
Mr Haftar launched a campaign against the GNC and its Islamic fundamentalist allies. His campaign allowed elections to take place to replace the GNC but then developed into the Second Libyan Civil War.
Mr Haftar heads the eastern-based LNA and waged war on western factions after the country split in 2014, including a 14-month offensive to take Tripoli that was repelled last year after devastating areas of the capital.
He named an interim replacement as head of the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA) until December 24, the date of the legislative and presidential vote.
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi is the second son of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. He was a part of his father’s inner circle, performing public relations and diplomatic roles on his behalf.
According to American State Department officials in Tripoli, during his father’s reign, he was the second most widely recognized person in Libya, being at times the “de facto” prime minister and was mentioned as a possible successor, though he rejected this.
An arrest warrant was issued for him on June 27, 2011, by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for charges of crimes against humanity against the Libyan people, for killing and persecuting civilians, under Articles 7(1)(a) and 7(1)(h) of the Rome statute. He denied the charges.
Mr Gaddafi’s intention is met by mixed feelings as he is remembered for his father’s autocratic reign and the roles he played during the NATO-backed uprising against the Muammar Gaddafi administration.
Saif Gaddafi in 2011 was captured by fighters from the mountain region of Zintan while trying to escape to Niger in the wake of the NATO-backed uprising against his father. He has since then remained out of public sight until recently when he announced his intentions to run for office.
In 2015, he was sentenced to death by a Tripoli court for war crimes, including the killing of protesters during the uprising, but was later pardoned.
Saif Gaddafi was disqualified on the basis of the electoral law stipulating that candidates “must not have been sentenced for a dishonourable crime” and must present a clean criminal record.
He has now been reinstated in the presidential race. According to his lawyer, Khaled al-Zaydi, the court in Sebha accepted his client’s appeal.
Political analysts suspect he stands a narrow chance as he is up against other strong candidates as well.
“I don’t see him winning an outright victory though. General Haftar is a force to reckon with and so we may likely head for a run off. What is unclear at the moment is who his (Gaddafi’s) international backers are,” said Confidence MacHarry, a geopolitical intelligence analyst with SB Morgen Intelligence.
He added that the early signs point to Russia who also backs Mr Haftar, and it remains to be seen how Gaddafi Jr would pivot his way in the wake of an ICC warrant on his head for war crimes.
Mr MacHarry said, “the Gaddafi name is still a popular one in Libya, and former Gaddafi administration officials are open to the idea of a Saif Al Islam presidency. The other people who would be his likely voters are people who are tired of the decade of political instability that the conflict has caused.”
Aguila Saleh, 77, a native of the eastern city of al-Qubah, has led Libya’s House of Representatives since 2014.
The body he heads came to power through elections in 2014 that ended up being contested. In the aftermath, the country split further into territories with rival authorities, and the law-making body fled from the capital of Tripoli to the eastern city of Tobruk after a court ruled it was no longer legitimate.
Aguila Saleh approved a presidential election law with a controversial clause that analysts said is tailored to allow him and Mr Haftar, his close ally, to run for office without risking their existing positions.
The clause, passed when a small number of lawmakers were present, said officials could step down three months before the election and return to their posts if they did not win. The chamber did not vote on the final version of the law.
A Tripoli-based advisory body, the High Council of State, has rejected the parliament’s election law, raising the likelihood that any vote will be contested as illegal.
The parliament, which was elected in 2014 and split soon afterwards into warring factions, has not yet approved a law for a separate parliamentary election, as was demanded by the UN dialogue forum.
Abdul Hamid Dbeibah
Abdul Hamid Dbeibah is the current prime minister of Libya’s interim government. He is a businessman-turned-politician and was born in the western city of Misrata. Mr Dbeibeh earned a master’s in engineering at the University of Toronto in Canada.
Mr Gaddafi in 2007 charged him with the task of running the state-owned Libyan Investment and Development Company (LIDCO). The firm was responsible for some of the country’s biggest public works projects, including the construction of 1,000 housing units in the leader’s hometown of Sirte.
Mr Dbeibah had agreed not to run in the elections as a condition to taking on his caretaker role earlier this year. For him to be eligible, Dbeibah would have needed to have suspended himself from governmental duties at least three months before the polling date, which he has yet to do.
Speaking on the importance of a peaceful election in Libya, Mr MacHarry said, “Libya’s election would draw global attention for the very reasons that it is coming against the backdrop of about five coup attempts on the African continent, and for a country torn apart by conflict, the rebuilding phase will hold important lessons for countries on the continent facing the same problem.”
In the same vein, Osmond Agbo, a public affairs analyst, believes that a successful election in Libya, accepted by most of the actors, will change the trajectory of armed conflicts causing major crises across Africa, especially in the Sahel region.
“That Africa today has become the focus of political Islam which is fueling the rise of Jihadists could be traced to a large extent with the situation in Libya,” Mr Agbo said.
According to Mr Agbo, “even though a stable government in Libya will not stop all the troubles since Genie is already in a bottle, it will definitely put a check on the activities of those who even today, still source illegal weapons from gun runners in Libya and prevent further deterioration of violence in the region.”
Mr MacHarry said he believes that Mr Haftar and Mr Gaddafi Jnr are the candidates to watch. However, Mr Saleh is an important contender, he said.
On the female candidates, Mr MacHarry said although Libya has made some progress with women’s inclusion with the appointment of a woman as foreign minister, an elected position is a different game entirely.
For Mr Agbo, although not impossible, it is highly unlikely that a woman will emerge winner of the elections.
He attributed this to the fact that Libya is a predominantly Muslim nation and some Muslims may have a different take on the role of women in the society.
“You can of course argue that Benaziah Bhutto was once Pakistan’s Prime Minister but that was an exception rather than the rule. Outside of that, the odds are always stacked against women in politics, even in western democracies.”
He also spoke about the task ahead of the next Libyan president.
“The new president will face two important tasks: unification of the country and the demobilisation of several armed militias, which would mean cutting down on the powers of the tribal warlords and renegade generals, or buying their support to ensure stability.
“He would also need to reconcile Libya’s sovereignty with the interests of outside geopolitical competitors who have varied interests and are thus backing different candidates,” Mr MacHarry said.
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