x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 September 2017

An inevitable delay to Libya's elections that will solve little

There are, unfortunately, compelling practical reasons to delay Libya's election scheduled for this month.

Libya's first elections since 1964 are scheduled for June 19. However, it is highly likely that the first elections since the fall of Muammar Qaddafi's regime will be delayed by a few weeks at least.

Leaks from within the government in Libya suggest that a delay will be announced due to technical complexities. For instance, the final list of candidates and parties has not yet been published, and there are reports of exclusions of over 70 nominees so far. These excluded candidates will be given the right to appeal, a process that could take some time.

As a consequence the ballot papers cannot be printed with all candidates' names, nor can they be distributed to voting centres throughout the country until the appeals process is concluded.

Lamentable, perhaps. But a delay might be just as well.

There are other factors that could affect the electoral process and the election results, as well as the entire political landscape in Libya. There are demonstrations, mainly in the cities and towns of eastern Libya, calling for equal distribution of National Assembly seats between the three old provinces - Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan.

Many taking part in the demonstrations have previously opposed the idea of federalism in the country. However, they now insist that equal distribution of seats is the only way to ensure the unity of Libya and safeguard the rights of all regions. The current allocation of seats gives Tripolitania an overall majority of 109 seats in the 200-member body.

Mustafa Abdul Jalil, chairman of the National Transitional Council, stated in a television interview recently that the current allocation of seats is unfair, but urged Libyans in eastern Libya to accept it for the sake of the country and the unity of its people.

Mohamed Al Harizi, the NTC's spokesperson, reiterated Mr Abdul Jalil's words and added that the rivalries and complexities in western Libyan cities and towns led to such an arrangement in order to reach consensus in Tripolitania, while ignoring the legitimate demands and rights of the relatively homogenous Cyrenaica.

Another very important development that many have chosen to ignore is the positioning of Cyrenaica's Defence Force, the military wing of the Cyrenaica Regional Council, in the Red Valley area on the outskirts of Sirte. The area covers Cyrenaica's western borders, and this development followed rumours that the area was to be declared a military zone that follows the city of Misrata.

The NTC promptly clarified its position and insisted that was not the case. However, the Cyrenaica's Defence Force continues to be positioned in the Red Valley area. The Cyrenaica Council made its opposition to the current allocation of seats in the assembly very clear, and called for people in eastern Libya to boycott the elections. The registration for the elections stood at 80 per cent of eligible voters; however, many in eastern Libya are still calling for the seats to be equally distributed, especially after the recent announcements by Mr Abdul Jalil and the NTC spokesperson.

Many experts remain preoccupied with analysis of the possible victor, and whether it would be the Islamist forces or the more moderate liberals that will secure a majority in the National Assembly. Party lists are competing for 80 of the 200 seats, while independent candidates are competing for the remaining 120 seats.

The Muslim Brotherhood is known for its close links with the former regime and especially Qaddafi's son, Saif Al Islam. In 2005 the Brotherhood boycotted the Libyan opposition convention in protest over the clauses that called for Qaddafi's regime be to ousted.

Mahmoud Jibril, the former NTC prime minister, is being haunted by his close links with Saif Al Islam. However, Mr Jibril has gained considerable and credible public support for the crucial role he played on the international stage during the revolution.

Meanwhile, the Islamists parties suffered another blow recently, when it was leaked that Ali Sallabi, a famous Libyan religious scholar who supports the Nation party led by Abdelhakim Belhadj, had held secret talks with former Qaddafi aides and loyalists now in Egypt. The revelations led to public anger in Libya; to many, these figures are criminals who should be brought to justice for taking part in the killing of Libyans during the revolution and are not to be negotiated with in secret.

For his part, Mr Sallabi maintained that he had the consent of Mr Abdul Jalil to go ahead with these secret talks. However, the NTC denied Mr Sallabi's claims and insisted no authorisation or consent was given.

The prospects for elections in Libya are not as clear as they should be at this late stage. The people of Libya don't know who they will be voting for as final candidates' lists have not been published and election campaigns have not started yet. A delay seems to be inevitable.

However, whenever elections are held - and they will be held eventually - it will be up to Libyans to navigate a political landscape that is unique, ever-evolving and unpredictable.

 

Mohamed Eljarh is a UK based Libyan academic researcher and political, social development activist. He is from the city of Tobruk in Eastern Libya

On Twitter @Eljarh