The aim of the UN mission in Libya has always been to help the country reach the end of the transitional period which has been in progress since the 2011 civil war ended.
Each UN envoy tried in his or her own way to reach that goal through complicated negotiations, committees and subcommittees. To-date, all have failed.
The latest such initiative was the subject of UN envoy Abdoulaye Bathily’s briefing to the UN Security Council on 27 February. The proposal envisions what Bathily called a “High-level Steering Panel for Libya” which would bring together all “relevant Libyan stakeholders,” including representatives of political institutions, major political figures, tribal leaders, civil society organisations, security actors, women and youth representatives.
That panel will, in the envoy’s words, facilitate the adoption of the “legal framework and time-bound roadmap” aimed at holding concurrent presidential and parliamentarian elections later this year. The biggest problem in the initiative is that it was built upon the assumption that the House of Representatives (HoR) and the Higher Council of State (HCS) would disagree, as is usually the case, when it comes to adopting the “legal framework” and a roadmap for elections. However, the HCS voted unexpectedly during an extraordinary session on 2 March, to approve the amendment of the Constitutional Declaration adopted by parliament, thus paving the way for elections to take place.
The two chambers are yet to agree on the details in which the devil always lurks beneath the surface, though, so further agreement is unlikely under the prevailing political atmosphere Libya.Some observers think that this sudden decision by the HCS, which usually rejects whatever the HoR decides, is another clever attempt to pre-empt and basically block Bathily’s initiative. If the HoR and HCS agree about elections, then there is no need for his “High-level Steering Panel”.
Both chambers would, in effect, have been bypassed by the Panel the moment that they disagreed about election-related laws that they are supposed to produce, so it is in their interest for the envoy’s initiative to stall. The HoR issued a statement criticising some of the points raised by Bathily. In his brief to the Security Council he pointed the finger of blame at Libya’s parliament for not providing the legal framework for the botched 24 December 2021 elections. The HoR statement defended its position and accused the envoy of “misrepresenting the facts” when he told the Security Council that the disagreements between the HoR and HCS over the 13th Constitutional Declaration Amendment “persisted” and the amendment itself remains “controversial” since it did not address the issue of eligibility for presidential contestants. Now both chambers claim that they are in agreement on this matter.
It’s true that the amendment did not say specifically who is eligible and under what conditions any individual can stand for president, but that has already been settled in law no.1/2021 which has neither been annulled nor amended. Clause Two of Article Ten of the law clearly states, among other things, that any presidential hopeful should not hold dual nationality on the day that the presidential election takes place. Moreover, the amended Constitutional Declaration said repeatedly that the details of elections laws must be dealt with in specifically-adopted laws and not necessarily be included in the constitutional document itself. Bathily appeared to have ignored the fact that two elections laws were adopted in preparation for the 2021 elections which were not held. The dual nationality issue, as well as other matters, could easily torpedo the elections for the second time. At least six individuals out of the 98 who registered as candidates for the thwarted 2021 presidential election are believed to have dual nationality, including General Khalifa Haftar.
General Khalifa Haftar taking over Libya – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]
The HCS has repeatedly opposed the idea of allowing anyone holding dual nationality to run for president. Its chairman, Khaled Al-Mishri, has said on more than one occasion that Haftar cannot be a presidential candidate unless he gives up his US passport. Indeed, at least two current Libyan laws ban anyone with dual nationality from holding any public office except under very specific conditions, let alone being president of the country. Regardless of the criticism of Bathily’s initiative and its shortcomings, the majority of Libyans want concurrent presidential and legislative elections this year. They are still angry because the 2021 elections were postponed indefinitely. At the same time, both chambers are resented by the majority of Libyans as they have overstayed their mandate: the HCS was elected ten years ago while the HoR was elected in 2014. Not only has their legitimacy long since eroded, but they are, in the minds of Libyans, also associated with corruption, nepotism and misappropriation of public funds. In any upcoming elections, most current members of both houses are likely to be defeated. Whether or not the sudden HoR and HCS agreement is a trap for the UN envoy or a sincere effort to end the long transitional period in Libya, we will know when the date is set for the elections. Nevertheless, what is clear is that even if elections take place this summer, as hoped, they will only be another intermediate phase of the political evolution on the way towards a stable and openly agreed political power structure.
To end the endless transitional phase, the country must adopt a permanent constitution as soon as possible. The issue of the constitution was raised recently by current Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, who said that he will not hand over power unless the constitution is first adopted in a public referendum. Knowing this to be a very controversial issue, Dbeibeh is more interested in gaining a few more years in power than seeking honestly to have the constitution adopted as soon as possible.
Notably, UN envoy Bathily enjoys the support of foreign powers like the US, the UK and France among others; at least this is what is claimed in public. How that support will materialise if the HoR and HCS agree to disagree again and delay elections for the second time is far from clear. Many inside Libya call on the “international community” to enact already adopted UN resolutions to sanction all institutions and individuals obstructing the election process, whether they are Libyan or foreign. This, though, is very unlikely to happen.