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Will the Libyan elections lead to calm or chaos?

Libya's eastern military chief Khalifa Haftar gives a speech at the local headquarters of the High National Election Commission in the eastern city of Benghazi on 16 November 2021. [ABDULLAH DOMA/AFP via Getty Images]
Libya's eastern military chief Khalifa Haftar gives a speech at the local headquarters of the High National Election Commission in the eastern city of Benghazi on 16 November 2021. [ABDULLAH DOMA/AFP via Getty Images]

International leaders and diplomats met in Paris on Friday, discussed the situation in Libya, and decided that the oil-rich North African country should stick to the UN plan to hold presidential and parliamentary elections next month. "We stress the importance for all Libyan stakeholders to mobilise resolutely in favour of the organisation of free, fair, inclusive and credible presidential and legislative elections on 24 December," the official statement released after the meeting confirmed.

The rival powers in Libya — the UN-backed government and the forces run by renegade Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who was backed by France, Egypt and the UAE, among others — agreed a ceasefire in October last year. The deal included the date for the elections.

The ceasefire ended a decade of violence which erupted following the popular uprising that removed Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. International powers, including France and Russia, were involved in the chaos, either through their own forces and mercenaries fighting alongside Haftar, or through sending weapons and military equipment to him.

In a video message to the Paris Conference, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said: "Libya today is closer than it has been for many years to solving its internal crisis and breaking the cycle of political transitions. We cannot miss this opportunity." He reiterated that the elections are an "essential next step on the road to peace and stability which has to be built on a strong foundation of inclusive and credible frameworks that can guarantee its success."

There is an apparent desire locally, regionally and internationally to complete the transitional period in the war-torn country. However, the timetable and the controversy over the candidates are likely to plunge the country into chaos and armed conflict yet again.

During his address to the UN General Assembly, the President of Libya's Presidency Council of the Government of National Unity, Mohamed Younis Menfi, said: "Libya is at a critical juncture – indeed a defining moment… Either we succeed in our democratic transition through free, fair and transparent elections, the results of which are acceptable to all… or we fail and relapse into division and armed conflict."

Paris Conference on Libya: dodging the hard questions while ignoring the easy ones

One of the obstacles that could lead to chaos is the insistence on foreign forces leaving the country, which was a condition of the ceasefire agreement. According to French President Emmanuel Macron, a new commitment by Haftar's forces in the east to remove 300 foreign mercenaries from the country "must" be followed by Turkey and Russia pulling out "their mercenaries".

Russia's Wagner Group has mercenaries in Libya, although it is denied that they are there under Moscow's control. They are in Libya to support Haftar, and entered the country illegally and in violation of international law. Turkey's troops, however, are in Libya at the invitation of the internationally-recognised government. Equating the two, as Macron appears to be doing, is unjust. "The mercenary withdrawal plan must be implemented. Russia and Turkey must withdraw their mercenaries without delay," Macron said after Paris conference. Turkey replied that "France has no right" to make such a call.

Indeed, Turkey suspected that there was a hidden agenda for the Paris conference, so it sent a lower-level delegation. Russia also knew that its presence in Libya was being targeted, so it also sent a lower-level envoy to Paris.

France is part of an international mobilisation against Turkey. Macron knows very well that the Turkish presence in Libya does not violate international law, but still said that, "Individuals or entities, inside or outside of Libya, who might attempt to obstruct, undermine, manipulate or falsify the electoral process and the political transition" could face sanctions.

The French are not alone is seeking to get a share of post-Gaddafi Libya's oil wealth. That is why global powers want to install a pliable dictator on the country who they can control, as they have in other countries. Such a person will care little about the people of Libya.

Gaddafi son to run for president - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Gaddafi son to run for president – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

There are two possible candidates for this role: Haftar — who has dual Libyan and US citizenship — and Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of the late dictator. Both can serve the interests of external powers at the expense of the blood and wealth of the Libyans.

This is why those who met in Paris last week stressed the term "inclusive" when discussing the Libyan elections. They insist that there should be no veto against anyone regardless of who they are and what they have done.

Haftar is not popular in Libya due to his hostility to the legitimate governments and the fact that he has Libyan blood on his hands. The same is true of Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, who was active in his father's oppressive regime. Their popularity ratings are falling even more given their renewed links to the Israeli occupation regime.

Al Jazeera said of Gaddafi: "He remains something of a cypher to many Libyans, having spent the past decade out of public sight since his capture in 2011 by fighters from the mountain region of Zintan… Complicating his presidential ambitions, Gaddafi was tried in absentia in 2015 by a Tripoli court at which he appeared via videolink from Zintan. He was sentenced to death for war crimes, including the killing of protesters… but was later pardoned."

Despite this, and despite being wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes, Gaddafi, a graduate of the London School of Economics, is still seen as a friend by the West.

Moreover, Al Jazeera pointed out: "Backed by Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, Haftar, a former CIA asset, is a controversial figure, despised by many in western Libya for last year's devastating Tripoli offensive. He has also been accused of seeking to establish a military dictatorship in the country. His decision to run [as a presidential candidate] will anger many in the capital city and western regions who claim that no vote in areas he holds can be fair and who accuse him of war crimes during the assault, something he denies."

According to the UN-backed reconciliation agreement, the main duty of the interim government of Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh is to prepare Libya for the presidential and parliamentary elections. Dbeibeh has expressed his concerns on several occasions that the country is not ready for the elections on 24 December and has proposed delaying them. He is not alone in thinking this; many popular and revolutionary groups and officials in Libya say the same. Local councils across the country are adamant that "war criminals" should not be allowed to stand as candidates.

READ: Outrage over her Lockerbie comment puts Libya's foreign minister on the spot

It seems, though, that the world powers are ready to interfere in the election process. Hence, their insistence that they should go ahead on schedule. This is going to be problematical.

"The danger lies in bypassing the referendum on the draft constitution with numerous excuses given. The fatal danger is presidential elections without approval of the constitution by the people," mused a member of the High Council of State in Libya, Abdurrahman Shater. He believes that the country needs additional time to finalise the election process and the law because "There is an international plot for the installation of a new dictator."

February TV reported the Head of the Defence and National Security Committee in the Libyan Parliament, Kamal Al-Jamal, as saying that, "We reject everything that allows people wanted to face justice running in the elections."

Many in Libya believe that the election results will not be respected if they go ahead in the absence of the constitution and amidst the ongoing divisions in the country. Real reconciliation that would end the chaos, violence, divisions and conflicts in the country completely should be based on elections that need a constitution and clear laws if they are to be free, fair and transparent.

"We all know that the road to reconciliation is long and arduous and to get to the end, applying transitional justice, truth, openness, acknowledging past wrongs, reparations and identifying the missing are all necessary," concluded Mohamed Younis Menfi. "Only with these steps can we move toward a successful genuine national reconciliation."

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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