Libya Elections: Chaos Postponed or Trouble Averted?

Libya on a hold.

Libya’s Head of the High National Electoral Commission, Imad Al-Sayeh in a leaked document, announced the dissolution of the electoral committees nationwide, a move that means the Presidential elections have been automatically postponed.

The move, long-sought and locally desired are yet to be identified or accepted by the West despite its potential to avert a chaotic situation. 

Getting down to history; in 2011, Libyans and the rest of the Arab world went to the streets. Their youths posited that enough was enough, went toe-to-toe with their governments and this led to the high-profile political death of some Arabian leaders like Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.

For former Libyan authoritarian leader, Muammar Gadaffi, the Arab Spring was the beginning of his embarrassing and fatal end; it wasn’t the end itself. The protests which attracted international attention led to the loss of lives in those countries but Libya was the worst-hit. It didn’t take long before rebels rebelled and questioned Gadaffi’s leadership style, unchecked dominance and approach to governance.

The Libyan rebels, at first, had an upper hand in their offensives but when the Libyan forces reacted, it set the springs for a devastating period in the modern history of Libya. Attention of the rest of the world turned to the country and questions were asked of the humanity of Gadaffi. While the African Union, where he wielded great authority did very little to check his excesses, the worst came when the US-backed North Atlantic Treaty Organisation fought in support of the rebels. 

After months of ceaseless battles between NATO, the rebels and Gadaffi’s army, he was captured, mauled, and killed on the 20th of October, 2011 in Sirte, a city that had become his second home and one that had its eyes lighting up on Gadaffi’s touch. 

Libyans trooped to the streets to celebrate the end of a tyrannical era, and one which divided opinions both locally and internationally. If they thought that was the beginning of greater things to come, they’d just strung the first chord in their discordant tunes of hope. The years that followed Gadaffi’s wall was a  perdition.

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The United States and United Nations have struggled ever since to return a semblance of normalcy to Libya, a country never known for great institutions or organisational structures. After Gadaffi’s emergence in 1969, and along his 42-year reign, his greatest achievement was making the country his and no other’s but his. The future was hardly set in motion. Unfortunately, the UN and the US hardly planned for the aftermath of Gadaffi’s fall, and didn’t see beyond their action stations. 

More than a decade since Libya had its faux-freedom, it has had endless challenges to battle including a 14-month long war in 2019 that saw former Gadaffi ally and rival, Khalifa Haftar in its middle.

Haftar, a war general is the king of the East. In a wave, he’s an exceptional thoroughbred soldier and in the other, a rebel. His push for the capture of Western Libya through the capital, Tripoli, and the exit of foreign forces led him to war against the United Nations and the Americans. This also meant the 2019 elections were never held. When he was overpowered, albeit still maintaining his firm grip on the East with the support of Turkey, Sudan, Chad and Russia, he let the battle thaw. He however, managed to divide the country further along regional lines and divided opinions. Ironically, and quite instructive of the fault lines in Libya, the same man stands high on the ballot as a Libya Presidential hopeful today.

Saif Al-Islam Gadaffi: A Bad Fruit From The Old, Felled Tree 

Muammar Gadaffi’s second son, Saif Al-Islam was one of his father’s staunchest lieutenants when he reigned in Libya. 

After his father’s capture and eventual fall, he was held by rebels and taken to a village called Zintan. He was sentenced to death in absentia by a court in Tripoli for the crimes he committed against Libyans during the revolution. An arrest warrant is also over his head after the International Criminal Court found him guilty of committing war crimes.

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Gadaffi (Jnr) reemergence in Libya and his Presidency interest doesn’t sit well with many who don’t remember his role with ecstasy. He’s part of the reasons the country is where it is and many see his desire as an offense against the sensibility of Libyans. 

Analysts suggest Saif al-Islam’s interest may be spurred by the need to protect himself from getting arrested but his presence poses more threats than dangers to the peace the election is being tipped to achieve. 

Other top contenders in Libya’s attempt to achieve a democratic transition are the current Prime Minister, backed by the UN and considered favourite, Abdulhamid Dbeibah, and the 77-year old controversial Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aguila Saleh. 

With barely three days to the election, there are still gaps and loopholes that threaten the existence, and co-existence of the nation’s disjointed parts. 

An Election Without Institutions, Constitution 

The UN backs an election in Libya and believes it is the way forward, despite the absence of a constitution. 

Federica Saini Fassanotti, an Associate Senior Fellow at the Institute for International Political Studies, Milan said an election without a constitution may have been possible if Libya had institutions or structure in place.

She said the lifelong absence of these institutions make such processes risky and difficult as the constitution is expected to provide a framework for the election. She however, suggested that Libyans will come out to vote, regardless of the current state of the election but are not sure of what to come afterwards. Libya has registered 2.8m voters ahead of the election, standing for 30% of its youthful population. 

Libya’s House of Representatives and the High State Council have been at loggerheads over the electoral law adopted by the parliament. The legal, social and political cracks in the country suggest gloom and doom and potential elections amid chaos leave nothing to rever for the people. 

The nation’s current struggles may be a case of Western control and imperialism over citizens’ nationalism and the quest for their nations’ progress. While it doesn’t seem clear whether Libyans are ready to proceed from their ruins or stick to relying on external ideas and ideologies, the continuous presence of the West has done little to help innovation, or direction, yet their absence may be at great risk too.

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The elections suggest division, along regional and political lines with Dbeibah controlling Tripoli and the rest of the West of the country, Haftar having a grip on the East, and Gadaffi in the South. A potential loss for any of them may throw Libya in further chaos and for a people that have barely tasted peace for a decade, that’s a risk too far. 

The election scheduled for the 24th of December may be coming too soon for Libya and if the intentions of the West are clear and their presence isn’t just to benefit from Libya’s Aladdin’s Cave, it’s only appropriate to postpone or delay the elections. 

Of the 98 people who have shown interest, none has been granted approval to campaign and their popularity is just as good as the power they wield in their zones. Many countries in the West, by conduct have shown to desire the continued instability in Libya and if peace is by chance the watchword, this election may be a bad example of chasing one as it knocks currently on the periphery of destruction. 

A postponement with a clear strategy to solve the existing challenges is in order and hopefully, this will birth the country of the dream of Libyans.

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