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Libya - Politics 2018

There are two main quasi-governmental forces vying for hegemony over the country: the House of Representatives (HoR), based in Tobruk and backed by Khalifa Haftars Libyan National Army, and the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), led by Libyan prime minister Fayez al-Sarraj and formed out of the UN Security Council-brokered Libyan Political Agreement.

Russia, France, Egypt and the UAE support Haftar the warlord who controls much of the east of the country and who started the latest phase of the war. Backed by Sisis Egypt and the UAE, he launched Operation Dignity against the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated General National Congress (GNC). Turkey and Qatar have thrown their weight behind rivals to the eastern strongman, especially Islamist groups.

President Macron of France blindsided Italy by holding a summit in Paris in May 2018 where Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) and eastern Libya strongman Khalifa Haftar agreed in principle to hold credible and peaceful elections by 10 December 2018. While France repeatedly endorsed the December date, Italy opposed it. In Haftar, France sees a cheap and easy ally against the diminished but ever-present threat of the Islamic State (Daesh) in Libya.

In September 2018, Italy`s defence minister and parliamentary speaker both partly blamed France forLibya`s security crisis. The Palermo conference held 10 November 2018 by Italian prime minister Giueseppe Conte had the stated purpose of forging a new path for the unification of Libyas various warring factions and a new timetable for elections was a complete diplomatic failure. It was a mark of the implausibility of this entire endeavour that on the second day, the presence of some of the key players at the summit was still undetermined, while Trump and Putin barely acknowledged its existence, let alone attended it. Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay withdrew from the conference on the last day.

Khalifa Haftar seems to have only turned up in Palermo to make a point of not formally attending the conference. The warlord refuses to sit down with representatives of Qatar, who he claims fund his Islamist and Al-Qaeda enemies. He has taken up the cause of the Saudi and UAEs counter-revolutionary drive to rid the region of democratic Islamism, as epitomised by the Muslim Brotherhood.

United Nations Special Envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame said 09 November 2018 he expected elections to take place in the war-wracked country in early 2019. The announcement was the first official acknowledgement that elections in Libya will be difficult to hold on December 10, as had been agreed by rival leaders at a Paris summit in May. Salame said a national conference in early 2019 will set the stage for the vote. "The National Conference is to be held in the first weeks of 2019. The subsequent electoral process should commence in the spring of 2019," Salame told the Security Council.

The existence of two rival legislatures - the internationally recognised Government of National Accord in Tripoli and the eastern-based House of Representatives (HOR) - each with its own central bank and national oil company - is indicative of the country's plight as it tries to enact the necessary reforms and, ultimately, hold elections.

The Libyan people, the UN and the international community have given every opportunity to the House of Representatives to act in the best interests of the country. But the House has failed to uphold its responsibilities. Months after a binding commitment to produce the legislation required to hold a referendum on the Constitutional proposal and Presidential and parliamentary elections, nothing has been seen. It is clear that the postponed sessions and contradictory public statements were simply intended to waste time. The body calling itself Libyas sole legislature is largely sterile. To both Houses, elections are a threat that must be resisted at all costs, but to the citizens, elections are a means of liberation from the ineffective and increasingly illegitimate authorities. Rival Libyan leaders and diplomats from more than 20 countries met 29 May 2018 in Paris agreed in principle the strife-torn North African state should hold elections later in 2018. The summit was French President Emmanuel Macron's second effort to bring peace to Libya. The head of a U.N.-backed "unity" government in Tripoli Fayez al-Sarraj, 75-year-old Khalifa Haftar, whose military forces dominate the country's east, along with the speaker of a parliament based in the eastern town of Tobruk declared the fractured country should hold presidential and legislative elections on December 10, according to French officials.

Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt have backed the French drive for elections, but Frances European neighbors and the Unites States have been more skeptical, and behind-the-scenes have been pushing for an agreement on a constitution first. On the eve of the peace conference, Human Rights Watch issued a report critiquing the idea of holding elections this year, arguing Libya's rival authorities should, at the least, ensure conditions for candidates to campaign freely without undue risk of attacks. HRW said it is concerned there would be no independent audit of the voter registry and questioned whether polling stations can be sufficiently secured.

The International Crisis Group, another NGO with considerable Libya experience, has also expressed alarm. Much more work remains to be done for a peace-building effort in Libya to succeed, it said. In Libya as in other peace processes, a delicate balance has to be struck between pushing parties to settle and letting them take ownership, tweeted Jean-Marie Guehenno, a senior advisor to the Swiss-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue.

The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) is seeking to support the holding of presidential and parliamentary elections before the end of September 2018, in accordance with an action plan proposed in November 2017 to end the political crisis in Libya. Neither General Khalifa Hafter's forces in the East [backed by Egypt and Saudi Arabia] nor the Qatari-Turkish-Pro Muslim Brotherhood faction in the West of the country want to see potentially unifying national elections take place in Libya. Both sides want more time to gain more territory and strengthen their hand at the future national negotiating table.

Ghassan Salame, the UN envoy to Libya, proposed in September 2017 an action plan for Libya to end the political crisis that included amendment of the current UN-sponsored political agreement, holding a national conference for all Libyan parties, and holding parliamentary and presidential elections before the end of 2018. Despite the signing of a UN-sponsored peace agreement by the Libyan parties later in 2015, Libya remains politically divided between authorities in the east and the west.

Libya on 06 December 2017 launched a UN-brokered effort to hold elections in the strife-torn country with a campaign to register new voters. Imed al-Sayeh, head of the countrys High National Election Commission (HNEC), announced the launch in Tripoli alongside the UN envoy Ghassan Salame. The campaign aims to add at least one million new voters to the 1.5 million Libyans already on a 2014 electoral register, Sayeh told a news conference.

The head of the HNEC, regarded as one of Libyas few credible and independent institutions since a 2011 revolution that toppled Moamer Kadhafi, said the process was expected to run for two months. The HNEC organised legislative elections in 2012 and 2014, Libyas first democratic polls after a 42-year ban under Kadhafi.

Chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya Fayez al-Sarraj announced that the country will hold its presidential and legislative elections in March 2018. He also called for all Libyans to unite in order to re-build their state. Since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, many armed entities have fought for control of Libya. The country was in a power struggle between the internationally recognized government of Al Wefaq (Political Party) in Tripoli and the "interim government, supported by the forces of Haftar.

The commander of the self-styled Libyan army in eastern Libya, Khalifa Haftar, said Libya is not ready yet for democracy, adding in a January 2018 statement to Jeune Afrique magazine that elections are now priority in the country, saying if they failed, then our forces will seize control of the entire country. Haftar slammed the Head of the Presidential Council Fayez Al-Sirraj as a weak person that is controlled by Tripoli militias, saying Al-Sirraj has no free hands and cannot make decisions or execute any orders. Haftar, walking in the footsteps of his ally in Egypt Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, also stressed the need to keep Muslim Brotherhood away from the organization of the elections.

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's most prominent son, announced 19 March 2018 his candidacy for the upcoming presidential elections. His candidacy was announced by Ayman Boras, director of his political reform program at a press conference in Tunis, who said that Saif al-Islam will present his electoral plan to the Libyan people in a televised speech in the next few days, and confirmed that Saif al-Islam is free and did not leave Libya. Although the announcement brings glimpses of hope to the supporters of the former regime, Saif al-Islam's return to Libya's political scene is confronted with different forms of difficulties.

Saif al-Islam, 46, is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for charges of crimes against humanity during his father's efforts to put down the 2011 rebellion against his rule. He was sentenced in absentia in July 2015 to death by the Tripoli Court of Appeal for genocide, hiring mercenaries, and forming armed groups during the 2011 uprising that overthrew his father's rule.

The Libyan eastern-based Parliament passed an amnesty law later in 2015 for all Libyans since Feb. 15, 2011 until the date of the declaration of the law. The armed group loyal to the eastern-based authorities, which was detaining Saif, released him "in compliance with the general amnesty law passed by Parliament." Saif's whereabouts remain unknown.

Saif al-Islam criticized his father's political system, and attempted to liberate Libya from the international isolation due to the regime's anti-American and anti-Western policies. He called for a political transition from what he described as "Libya's revolution" to "Libya the state."

UN Envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame, said in a press statement in 2017 that he did not seek to meet Saif al-Islam, as he is wanted by the ICC. Salame's stance showed that the international community lacked interest for offering any role for Saif al-Islam in the future. However, his stance may change if all efforts to end the political crisis in Libya fail.

The newly-elected Head of the Libyan High Council of State Khaled al-Meshri on 12 April 2018 called for an urgent meeting with the eastern parliament to end the country's political division. Libya's High Council of State on 08 April 2018 elected al-Meshri, a leader of the Justice and Building Party and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, as the new head of the council, replacing Abdarrahman Swehli.

Al-Meshri said in a televised speech that the meeting with the speaker of the eastern-based parliament Agila Saleh is a "priority" to bring together the dialogue teams of the two councils. He also expressed regret over the continued deterioration of the security and economic situation in the country "due to failure of some parties to meet the requirements of the agreement."

The Tobruk-based eastern parliament did not endorse a UN-sponsored political agreement signed in December 2015 under which the High Council of State was formed. Al-Meshri also mentioned the continued division of the sovereign and military institutions, which led to the non-activation of mutual powers between the House of Representatives (eastern-based parliament) and the High Council of State." Al-Meshri confirmed that he would work to activate transitional justice, calling on efforts to establish a permanent constitution. "As we realize the seriousness of this stage, we are going to be in close contact with the parties involved in dealing with monetary policy to stop wasting public money," he said.

The non-binding accord signed by rival Libyan factions at the Paris Summit in June 2018 cast doubts on the feasibility of securing early elections.The Italians, Turks, and Qataris (and the Americans to a large extent) believed the constitution should come before elections whereas the French, Egyptians and Emiratis were for elections first.

Libyan leaders committed to a roadmap to parliamentary and presidential elections in the North African country before the end of the year. The summit brought four Libyan leaders to the table; Fayez al-Sarraj, head of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli and chairman of the Presidential Council (PC); eastern Libya commander Khalifa Haftar; Khaled Al-Mishri, president of the High Council of State (HCS); Aguila Saleh, speaker of Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR). Representatives from around 20 neighboring countries and regional powers involved in the Libya crisis were also in attendance.

France and Italy were pulling in opposite directions as Rome stands behind Sarraj, hoping he can find a solution to the migration issue, whereas Paris supports Haftar, viewing his army as an effective counterterrorism measure. clashes that erupted on Tripoli's southern outskirts on August 27 were between rival militias both from and outside the capital. The UN brokered a ceasefire on September 4, but fighting resumed within days. By the time the guns fell silent again, the fighting had left at least 117 dead and more than 400 wounded, according to the GNA.

Clashes between rival militias in the capital Tripoli in September 2018 served to highlight the delicate security climate and worked as an incentive to demobilise and integrate armed groups into the formal security apparatus. Clashes between militias in suburbs of the capital have left more than 100 people dead since late August 2018.

United Nations Special Envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame said he expects elections to take place in the war-wracked country in early 2019. The announcement on 09 November 2018 was the first official acknowledgement that elections in Libya will be difficult to hold on December 10, as had been agreed by rival leaders at a Paris summit in May. "The National Conference is to be held in the first weeks of 2019. The subsequent electoral process should commence in the spring of 2019," Salame told the UN Security Council.

Talks in Italy in November laid bare deep divisions between the key power brokers, with some delegates refusing to sit side by side and Haftar snubbing the main conference to organise separate talks with international leaders.

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Page last modified: 05-03-2019 18:40:21 ZULU