Libya: 98 candidates

Kamel Abdallah , Wednesday 24 Nov 2021

Al-Ahram Weekly keeps up with the latest developments in Libya

98 candidates
Libyans gather at the Martyrs Square in Tripoli to protest against the candidacy of Seif Al-Islam Gaddafi (photo: AFP)

The Libyan High National Elections Commission (HNEC) closed the presidential candidate registration process on Monday evening, having received papers from 98 prospective rivals. The candidates will be screened by the Public Prosector’s Office, the Criminal Investigations and Nationality and the Foreigners Affairs Office before the HNEC produces the final list.

Foremost among the presidential aspirants are the current Prime Minister of the Government of National Unity (GNU) Abdel- Hamid Al-Dabeiba, the Commander of the Libyan National Army Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, the son of the former regime leader Seif Al-Islam Muammar Gaddafi and former interior minister Fathi Bashagha. Large numbers of former regime figures and Islamist politicians have submitted their papers, as well as relative unknowns from around the country.

According to the electoral registration guide that the HNEC publicised last week, the  commission will post the preliminary list of applicants two days after the end of the registration process in its head offices in Tripoli, Benghazi and Sabha, the capitals of Libya’s three provinces Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan. The screening process will take a week, after which the HEC will announce the final list of candidates eligible to run for president. If indeed elections proceed as scheduled on 24 December, a second, run-off round will be likely.

The turnout for nominations to the presidency exceeded all expectations, including those of the HNEC. The same cannot be said of nominations for the parliamentary elections, which still appear relatively slow. The reason for this may be that two more weeks of the four allowed for parliamentary candidate registration remain, while presidential candidates had only two weeks to submit their papers.

Despite progress in the electoral roadmap, a shadow of uncertainty still hovers over its successful conclusion because of ongoing friction between the main factions, legal challenges against the process and anticipated challenges to the candidacy of some contestants once the HNEC announces the final lists.

Although the UN-sponsored Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) achieved important breakthroughs in its meetings in Tunisia and Geneva at the end of last year, the fragile consensuses gave way to sharp tensions that resurfaced over the constitutional basis and the electoral laws governing the elections. Despite the inability of the main political forces to agree on them, the HNEC went ahead with electoral registration and other processes. Now the High Council of State and other political forces in western Libya have begun to contest the electoral laws and regulations, which could jeopardise the elections, cause them to be postponed or open the results to further contestation. Political forces in Libya and international powers that have been pressing for the completion of the roadmap approved by the LPDF last autumn fear that if the elections are deferred once, that deferral will be permanent given the resurgent tensions. The elimination of certain presidential hopefuls could also spark troubles to jeopardise the elections.

Some members of the main political forces have already threatened not to recognise the results of the ballot box if they do not meet their hopes. Others have threatened to prevent the polls if their preferred candidate is eliminated. Such attitudes have focused attention on three of the most prominent candidates: GNU Prime Minister Abdel- Hamid Al-Dabeiba, Seif Al-Islam Al-Qaddafi and Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

The first could be eliminated on the basis of Article 12 of the Presidential Elections Law which states that public office holders must resign from their posts three months ahead of the elections, which are scheduled for 24 December. The interpretation of the article, indeed the article itself, has been the subject of controversy. Legal challenges could ruin the prospects of Haftar and Qaddafi. The latter submitted his candidacy papers in Sabha where he has made several public appearances since then.

On Monday, the Tripoli-based High Council of State (HCS) announced that it was in permanent session and called on the Presidency Council to form a committee to develop an initiative that would resolve the crisis over the electoral laws, strengthen confidence in the electoral process and ensure the integrity and transparency of the polls. The HCS has repeatedly denounced the electoral laws passed by the House of Representatives, arguing that they violate the Constitutional Declaration, and warned that it would contest the elections if they went ahead under the current laws.

In light of the doubts surrounding the fate of the elections, some Libyan figures have begun to prepare an alternative political process to the UN-sponsored one. Sources familiar with this process, which they say will include representatives from all sides, told Al- Ahram Weekly that it will be available in the event of the current electoral process collapsing.

Western powers have been pushing for the elections to be held as planned in order to bring the current interim phase to a successful conclusion and reestablish the legitimacy of national institutions. However, the mechanisms that have paved the way to the elections are controversial and some fear that polls conducted on this basis will ultimately produce an executive authority of questionable legitimacy. The consequences of this could set back all the progress made during the past year.

Meanwhile, conflicting messages from Western powers have encouraged Libyan players to dig in their heels and pursue their particular ambitions or designs, regardless of the risk of sanctions for obstructing the process. Sadly, the Libyan crisis has gone this way before, to which testify several failed interim phases and roadmaps during the past six years.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 25 November, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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