Econostrum | Economic News in the Mediterranean

Libya's December 24 presidential polls in trouble

Written by Frédéric Dubessy on Monday, December 20th 2021 à 15:29 | Read 192 times

Libyans will have to wait before using their voter cards (photo: HNEC)
Libyans will have to wait before using their voter cards (photo: HNEC)
LIBYA. There is no room for complacency. Libyans must now meditate on this obvious fact. The presidential election of 24 December 2021, the result of UN Security Council Resolution 2570, will probably not take place on the scheduled date. For weeks now, international bodies, led by the United Nations, and Western governments have been insisting on the need to hold this election, an essential step towards the democratisation of the country after ten years of civil war.

The date chosen already seemed surreal, as Libya, where the guns only fell silent on Friday 23 October 2020, does not have the necessary terrain to hold any election, let alone a presidential one. The very divided camps have continued to put obstacles in each other's way. The electoral law, ratified without a vote in September 2021 by the Tobruk parliament, was tailor-made for Marshal Khalifa Haftar. According to this text, the strongman of the east of the country will be able to return to the head of the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA) - which had fought against the government of national unity before failing to seize Tripoli - if he was not elected. The law contradicts the wishes of the provisional government based in the west (Tripoli) embodied by Abdel Hamid Dbeibah, interim Prime Minister since March 2021. He is himself a candidate for the supreme magistracy, although he had indicated that he did not want to participate in this race. His office and the headquarters of the Presidential Council were surrounded by armed militia on the night of 15-16 December 2021 to intimidate and force the interim executive to abandon the presidential election. The private home of the head of government was protected by a military force dispatched by Mohammed el Menfi, President of the Presidential Council.

Access to the court in Sebha (south of the country) was also blocked by armed men to prevent Saif al-Islam Gaddafi's lawyers from appealing against the rejection of their client's candidacy by the High National Elections Commission (HNEC). The court was finally able to rule and the son of the former Leader of the Revolution is back on the ballot, despite an arrest warrant for him for crimes against humanity issued by the International Criminal Court.

Voter card fraud

All this raises a question: what about the protection of future polling stations?
Khaled Mazen, Minister of the Interior, has already made it known for a fortnight that he does not have the capacity to ensure their security: "the continued disruption of the security plan and the increase in violations and attacks will undermine the efforts made to secure the electoral process, and this will have a direct impact on the conduct of the elections and our commitment to hold them on the scheduled date.

The validity of the result of the ballot box is also bound to be challenged. More than 2,300 voter cards were stolen from five polling stations by militias and many of the 2.48 million Libyans registered to vote could not get them back. Someone had done it for them by impersonating them. Divisions, intimidation, theft, fraud... The climate definitely does not seem conducive to a calm election, at least not to the "free and fair elections" desired by the UN.

Everyone pretended to believe in Santa Claus until the last few hours. On Saturday 18 December 2021, Stephanie Williams, the UN Secretary General's Special Advisor on Libya, went to Benghazi to talk about national reconciliation and presidential and parliamentary elections. The next day, Jean-Yves Le Drian was in New York to discuss with Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General, on this issue to "achieve elections in accordance with the legal framework adopted by Libyans".
On Monday 20 December 2021, the US ambassador Richard Norland visited a polling station and a school and said he was "impressed by the preparations". At the same time, Washington, via its embassy in Libya, complained to the Libyan news agency LANA about the accusation in the local media and social networks of US interference in Libyan politics. "The fate of Libya and its elections is decided only by Libyans and this is what the US has always stressed." 

The parliamentary committee in charge of monitoring the electoral process, however, announced on Friday 17 December 2021 in a statement that "the postponement of the elections is a definitive and realistic issue." Its members added that "the Electoral Commission is responsible to the Libyan people for announcing whether or not the election deadline can be met."

The first presidential election in the country's history

Despite all its goodwill, the HNEC is still struggling to publish the final list of candidates, while the campaign was supposed to start on 7 December 2021, after the end of judicial appeals, to run until 23 December 2021.
His institution is struggling to manage the 80 or so candidacies and has not finished, for the past two weeks, studying the verdicts concerning the challenges to several candidates.
Imad el-Shadelli al-Sayeh, President of the HNEC, said on Sunday 19 December 2021 that "technically" he had "no problem holding elections on the set date". The rest of his statement to the Turkish news agency Anadolu remains particularly enlightening on a future abandonment of the date of 24 December 2021. "It is not our competence to announce the postponement of the elections. It is the task of the parliament that gave the instruction to hold them and therefore it will give the order to cancel or postpone them."

The presidential elections, the first in the country's history, could therefore follow the same fate as the legislative elections, which were also due to take place on 24 December 2021, but were postponed to January 2022, at the beginning of October 2021. It remains to be seen whether the conditions will be more conducive to an election, or even elections, in a few weeks...

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