Libya - Election 2021
Libya's civil conflict pits military commander Khalifa Haftar, commander of the eastern-based self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA). and its allies against forces aligned with the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, in the west. Haftar is supported by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia. Turkey, a bitter rival of Egypt and the UAE in a broader regional struggle over political Islam, is the main patron of the Tripoli forces, which are also backed by the wealthy Gulf state of Qatar.
Libya's warring rival governments announced in separate statements 21 August 2020 that they would cease all hostilities and organize nationwide elections soon, an understanding swiftly welcomed by the United Nations and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The statements were signed by Fayez al-Sarraj, head of the Government of National Accord based in the capital Tripoli, and Aguila Saleh, speaker of the eastern-based parliament. Sarraj, who heads the Presidential Council, said parliamentary and presidential elections would be held in March 2021. Both statements called for demilitarizing the city of Sirte and the Jufra area in central Libya, and a joint police force to be responsible for security there.
GNA head Fayez al-Sarraj "issued instructions to all military forces to immediately cease fire and all combat operations in all Libyan territories", a statement said. Al-Sarraj added the ultimate aim of the truce is to impose "full sovereignty over the Libyan territory and the departure of foreign forces and mercenaries".
The truce will make the strategic city of Sirte a temporary seat for a new presidential council to be guarded by security forces from various regions in the country. Already scarred by Libya's 2011 uprising and a takeover by the ISIL (ISIS) armed group, Sirte now finds itself not only at the centre of a civil war but also a focus of geopolitical enmities that span the region. Since Turkish intervention helped drive Haftar's LNA back in early June from its 14-month offensive on the capital, Tripoli, the front lines have settled around Sirte, in the middle of Libya's Mediterranean coast and close to major oil terminals.
As the GNA and Turkey looked ready to make further advances, Egypt declared Sirte a red line and pushed through parliamentary approval for possible military intervention. In recent weeks, Libyan factions and their foreign backers have been mobilising as diplomats try to avert a military escalation and secure a ceasefire.
The interim government in eastern Libya resigned hours after protesters set fire to its headquarters in Benghazi. Protests also erupted in the cities of Al-Marj, Sabha and Al-Bayda. Protesters set fire to the government's headquarters in the eastern city of Benghazi, as well as Al-Marj, which is a stronghold of Khalifa Haftar and his self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA). Protests also broke out in the southern city of Sabha and Al-Bayda, which is the former seat of government. After days of protests against corruption and poor living conditions, the government in eastern Libya announced its resignation on 13 September 2020. Prime Minister Abdallah al-Thani submitted the resignation to the speaker of the eastern-based House of Representatives, in a country that has seen rival governments in the east and west since long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown in 2011.
Libya’s internationally recognised Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj said on 17 September 2020 he wanted to quit by the end of October, which could feed political tensions in Tripoli amid new efforts to find a political solution to the country’s conflict. “I declare my sincere desire to hand over my duties to the next executive authority no later than the end of October,” he said in a televised speech. Citing the work of UN-sponsored talks in Geneva, he pointed to progress in agreeing a way to unify Libya’s fragmented state and prepare for elections.
This announcement came as a great surprise. Farrej al-Sarraj stepped down amid a flurry of speculation about his reasons for doing so, as well as fears that his resignation could cause further turbulence in a country racked by nearly a decade of chaos. Possibly Turkey or local militias directly pressured Sarrej to stand down. Sarrej said in his resignation speech that he had sought to achieve “as much consensus as possible” within an “extremely polarised” political and social climate but that the “difficulties were insurmountable”. Even today, some groups “insist on seeking their ends through military means”, he lamented.
Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al Sarraj, who had planned to step down on October 31, took back his decision to resign at the end of October. Sarraj will remain in office until the ongoing intra-Libyan political dialogue talks come to an end, Libyan government spokesman Galib al Zaklai said 31 October 2020. This came a day after the High Council of State urged Sarraj, the head of the Presidential Council, to stay until a new presidential council is selected in order to avoid a political vacuum and for Libya’s stability. The UN Support Mission in Libya and the parliament in Tripoli also called on Sarraj to postpone his decision, citing "reasons of higher interest."
Libyan envoys at UN-backed talks in Egypt agreed to hold a constitutional referendum before planned elections in the war-torn country later this year, Egypt's foreign ministry said 20 January 2021. Egypt "welcomes the agreement reached today between the Libyan parties in Hurghada in the framework of the constitutional process... and appreciates the efforts that led to the agreement to hold a referendum on the draft constitution in view of the Libyan elections scheduled for December 24, 2021," the ministry said in a statement. New talks will be held in Egypt in February 2021 with a view to settling the "road map for the referendum and elections", it added.
In late January 2021 the UN announced the names of 24 candidates for Libya's three transitional presidential posts, and 21 for the prime ministerial position. Out of 24 candidates, three will be elected for the presidential council, and one prime minister will be elected out of the 21 candidates. Together, these four elected people will have powers to guide the country to its first election after five years of war and turmoil by the end of December 2021.
With the UN approving Aguila Saleh president of Libya’s Tobruk-based House of Representatives, among the 24 candidates, experts say there is a potential it could spark violence since he is known for his notoriety and of having done more harm to peace building efforts than good. “The UN has approved the candidacy of this warmonger who under international law is ultimately responsible for potentially dozens of war crimes and crimes against humanity," pro-democracy Libyan activist Ahmed Sewehli said. “Russia and France are working together in Libya, supporting warlord Haftar and Aguila Saleh. They were behind the war on Tripoli. The UN has caved in to Russia and France’s demands that they are able to put forward their preferred dictator,” Sewehli said.
Saleh has sided with warlord Haftar on several occasions, and together they have made attempts to destroy the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), which governs some liberated parts of Libya from its capital city, Tripoli. Saleh has also come under international criticism for encouraging the Egyptian military-dictator-turned-president Abdel Fattah el Sisi to enter the Libyan conflict and use military force against the GNA if it attempted to liberate the strategic city of Sirte from Haftar's occupation.
Libya's new interim Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah was sworn in on 15 March 2021 to lead the war-torn country's transition to elections on 24 December 2021, after years of chaos and division. Dbeibah, 61, a wealthy businessman from the western port city of Misrata, once held posts under Gaddafi but has shown no clear ideological position. He holds a master's degree from the University of Toronto in engineering, and his expertise introduced him to Gaddafi's inner circle and led him to head a company managing huge construction projects. During Gaddafi's rule, Misrata underwent an industrial and economic boom, from which the Dbeibah family and many others profited. Dbeibah is also known to be supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood and is close to Turkey.
Dbeibah was considered an outsider compared to other candidates vying for the job, and his election process has been marred by allegations of vote-buying. But Dbeibah jumped into his role even before his inauguration, including pledging to combat the coronavirus crisis, and taking anti-corruption measures by freezing state-owned investment funds.
A United Nations-supervised process is aimed at uniting the country, building on an October ceasefire between rival administrations in the country's east and west. Dbeibah, selected at UN-sponsored talks in February 2021 alongside an interim three-member presidency council, took the oath of office in front of lawmakers in the eastern city of Tobruk. Dbeibah's swearing-in comes after parliament approved his cabinet, in a move hailed by key leaders and foreign powers as "historic". His government includes two deputy prime ministers, 26 ministers and six ministers of state, with five posts including the key foreign affairs and justice portfolios handed to women, a first in Libya.
Dbeibah's administration was expected to replace both the UN-recognised Government of National Accord, based in Tripoli, and a parallel cabinet headquartered in the east, under the de facto control of forces of military strongman Khalifa Haftar. Turkey has backed the GNA, while Haftar's administration has drawn on support from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia.
A critical task of Libyan authorities and institutions remains to ensure the holding of parliamentary and presidential elections on 24 December as set out in the LPDF roadmap and called for by the Security Council Resolution 2570. This priority lies at the core of the mandate of the GNU. The House of Representatives has the responsibility to clarify the constitutional basis for elections and adopt the necessary electoral legislation. This must be done latest by 1 July, to allow Libya’s High National Elections Commission (HNEC) adequate time to prepare for the elections.
In May 2021, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that foreign fighters and mercenaries should leave Libya, but these forces should not be confused with legitimate forces training Libya's military under a pact with the legitimate government.
The second Libya conference concluded in Berlin 23 June 2021 with a final declaration stressing the need for holding elections in the North African country as agreed and withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries. "National presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for 24 December 2021 need to take place as agreed in the roadmap adopted by the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum in Tunis in November 2020, and their results need to be accepted by all. The necessary constitutional and legislative arrangements must be adopted," read the declaration. It also said the election results "need to be accepted by all and "the necessary constitutional and legislative arrangements must be adopted."
The statement also called for the withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya. "All foreign forces and mercenaries need to be withdrawn from Libya without delay," it said, noting Turkey's reservation. The 2019 security cooperation agreement between Turkey and Libya has been credited with helping end the civil war in the country and promoting peace and unity under the legitimate government. The communique underscored the importance of addressing and resolving the underlying causes of the conflict as well, saying the security sector needs to be "reformed and placed firmly under unified, civilian authority and oversight."
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