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Libya may not hold elections this year, says UN envoy

Former UN Special Envoy for Libya Ghassan Salame in Rome, Italy on 8 August 2017 [Riccardo de Luca/Anadolu Agency]
Former UN Special Envoy for Libya Ghassan Salame in Rome, Italy on 8 August 2017 [Riccardo de Luca/Anadolu Agency]

Libya may not be in a position to hold its general election scheduled for December this year, UN envoy to the North African country Ghassan Salame told reporters on Saturday. "There is still a lot to do," Salame explained. "It may not be possible to respect the date of 10 December." He cited continued violence in Libya and a backlog of unpassed legislation.

Libyan factions agreed to proceed with elections in May under the auspices of an international conference hosted in Paris by French President Emmanuel Macron, in a bid to unify the divided country after years of infighting. The Paris agreement stipulated a 16 September deadline to come up with an electoral law that would form the "constitutional base" for a vote later in the year. However, Salame pointed out that such legislation still needed to be enacted, adding that it would likely be a further three or four months before the poll could take place.

An attack on the High National Elections Commission headquarters in Tripoli in May has also resulted in logistical problems, such that it cannot proceed with voter registration until it relocates to a new building. The UN envoy added that a committee of military and police officers has been formed with the help of the UN and tasked with sorting out the registered individuals in the Interior and Defence Ministries.

Salame's latest comments came after the Foreign Minister of the Presidential Council's government, Mohammed Sayala, told the UN General Assembly last week that the international organisation must deepen its involvement in Libya and change its mission in the country from politics to security. Sayala told diplomats that the government is doing its best to deal with the current challenges, and hailed the efforts of the UN Special Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) in mediating a ceasefire in the capital Tripoli after weeks of bloody clashes that displaced some 25,000 people.

Tripoli clashes at an end as Libya militias retreat

UN envoy Salame responded to the request in an interview with Al Jazeera yesterday, expressing his surprise at the proposal, having previously sensed unwillingness among Libyan parties to return to political negotiations. "The Tripoli clashes were the first time when UNSMIL got involved in the security conditions thoroughly," he said, acknowledging the success of the UN-led ceasefire. He added that he would discuss the proposal with the Presidential Council, adding that the UN would be involved in reviewing the constitution referendum.

Since the protests against the regime of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, the country has faced chronic instability and violence. In 2014, Libya split between rival camps with General Khalifa Haftar emerging gradually as the dominant figure in the east, aligned with a regional parliament and government, and opposing the internationally recognised government in the capital, Tripoli.

At the UN General Assembly in New York last week, Macron emphasised the importance of the Libyan election in achieving long term stability. "Only this can accelerate the road towards a long-lasting solution," Macron told diplomats. "The status quo is only producing gains for traffickers and terrorists."

Libya: Ex-Gaddafi supporters, opposition and Haftar forces discuss peace

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