Libya Calls Off Presidential Polls Over Security Concerns

Imad al-Sayeh, the head of Libya's High National Electoral Commission, gives a press conference in the capital Tripoli on November 23, 2021. - Libya's electoral commission said that 98 candidates, including two women, have registered to run in a presidential election scheduled for December. Among the most notable hopefuls are Seif al-Islam Kadhafi, the son of slain dictator Moamer Kadhafi, and Khalifa Haftar, leader of the self-styled Libyan National Army in control of country's east and parts of the south. (Photo by Mahmud Turkia / AFP)

The Libyan parliamentary committee overseeing the country’s first-ever presidential election scheduled for Friday has determined that it will be impossible to hold the vote as planned, ultimately casting doubts over a long-drawn UN-backed peace process.

Although the committee did not state a new date, leaving the internationally-backed peace process in chaos and the fate of the interim government in doubt.

The chairman of the committee wrote on Wednesday to the head of parliament stating that: “After consulting the technical, judicial, and security reports, we inform you of the impossibility of holding the elections on the date of 24 December 2021 provided for by the electoral law.”

Following the announcement, Libya’s electoral body, the High National Electoral Commission(HNEC), which is charged with handling the practicalities of any vote, dissolved polls committees and suggested postponing the first round of the presidential election until January 24. Head of HNEC Imad al-Sayeh has stepped down, effectively postponing the December 24 vote.

Millions of Libyans had already registered for voting cards for the election in what politicians on all sides in Libya have said is a sign of the strong popular desire for the polls.

However, heavily armed groups deployed tanks across Libya’s capital city Tripoli early on Tuesday morning, blocking traffic.

Head of High National Electoral Commission, Imad al-Sayeh

In spite of the deployment of military forces, the University of Tripoli and schools in the city’s south suspended classes, while a major oil field shut down operations.

With the major mobilisations in Tripoli and other western areas by armed groups, the collapse of the electoral process risks aggravating local disputes and triggering a new round of violence.

These disputes may undo the wider UN-backed peace process between Libya’s main eastern and western fronts that have maintained a ceasefire since last year.

The three most prominent candidates are the eastern commander Khalifa Haftar, the son of the former Libyan ruler Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, and interim Prime Minister Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah.

Factions, candidates, and foreign powers have been talking behind the scenes about whether an election can still take place with a short delay or whether a longer postponement is necessary to reach an agreement on the legal basis of the vote.

Meanwhile, the status of the interim government that was installed in March as part of the same peace process is also at risk, with the eastern-based parliament having withdrawn confidence from it in September, 2021.

At the time, the speaker of parliament Aguila Saleh, himself a presidential candidate, issued a law that his critics said was not properly passed through the chamber, deviating from the roadmap, and was crafted to benefit himself and his allies.

That law, which split the presidential election from a later parliamentary one, formed the basis of the electoral process, although powerful factions and leading candidates rejected it.

The parliament’s electoral committee’s statement on Wednesday added that the government’s mandate would expire on Friday.

The election was originally called through a UN-backed process that envisaged simultaneous parliamentary and presidential elections on December 24, which is Libya’s national day.

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