There are growing concerns and speculations that the Libyan general elections will be delayed. The elections were previously planned to hold on 10 December 2018, but were shifted to early 2019 and again shifted to 24 December 2021. The new date falls on a day when Libya will mark her 70th independence anniversary. However, the previous delays have made most analysts sceptical about the reality of the new date.
In May 2018, four government officials namely, the Head of Government of National Accord, Fayez al-Sarraj; Head of Libyan National Army, Khalifa Haftar; Head of High Council of State, Khalid al-Mishri; Head of the House of Representatives, Aguila Saleh Issa agreed on the original date slated for the general elections in December 2018.
This decision was supported by a final report submitted by the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue for the Libyan National Conference preparatory phase. This initial date was agreed upon due to the masses’ expression of the displeasure of the political status quo and demand for a change in the political system. This agreement included coming up with a standard electoral framework or law that will serve as the constitutional base for the elections coming up the same year. To this effect, France donated the sum of one million US dollars.
However, the elections could not hold as predicted by the United Nations Representative to Libya, Ghassan Salame, and many other foreign observers. The elections were delayed due to militia clashes that took place in Tripoli’s suburbs which led to the deaths of more than 100 persons.
Furthermore, the political instability and disputes across the nation coupled with a deteriorating economy despite the nation’s vast oil wealth made the presidential and parliamentary elections unattainable.
It is noteworthy that local elections have taken place in about 50 municipalities in Libya between March 2019 and January 2021. The aim of the Libyan Central Commission of Municipal Council Elections is to have a total election in 68 municipalities in 2019. This goal was not achieved because of disruptions caused by a militia affiliated with the Libyan National Army.
Although an international conference was facilitated by Italy in Palermo which was attended by key Libyan political figures to resolve the Libyan conflict, it was without any major success. The conference is, nonetheless, not without notable recommendations or propositions. Some of these include; sanctions against anyone who violates the ceasefire in Tripoli by the international community, promotion of peaceful, free, fair, credible, and well-prepared electoral processes, among others.
Also, the ceasefire agreement reached by the two main warring factions — the government of the National Accord and Libya Armed Forces led by Khalifa Haftar led to the formation of a transitional government by a UN-led forum, with Mohammed Menfi chosen as the leader of the Presidency Council.
Observers of the electoral processes pointed that now is the time for the interim government to utilise the newly regained peace and nascent unity to continue the process of reconciliation and hold national (presidential and parliamentary) elections come 24 December 2021.
There might be a ray of hope as progress has been made so far in preparing for the general elections. About 2.3 million voters’ cards have been produced. Despite this, there remain several other steps to be taken if the general elections would hold.
There is still a need for the House of Representatives to make clarifications on the constitutional standards for conducting free and fair elections, as well as adopt the required electoral legislation by July 1, which in turn gives the Libyan’s National Electoral Commission enough time to prepare for the elections. Without this, the National Electoral Commission cannot conduct elections and this might lead to a postponement or further delay.
In response to this, the speaker of the House of Representatives said that draft legislation on the general election is ready to be presented to the House.
Hopes are getting high in view of the general elections but there remains a critical threat, which if not tackled effectively, could lead to further delay of the elections. Kubis pointed out that the presence and activities of thousands of foreign fighters, mercenaries, and armed groups if not curb and withdrawn in an orderly fashion are dangerous, not just to Libya, but other countries in the Northern region of Africa.
In a news broadcast on 3 June 2021, former Interior Minister, Fathi Bashagha, warned the government of Libya not to delay the general elections. He told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) that it is obvious that the present government would not want to go ahead with the elections, but they do not have any choice other than to stay committed to its completion.
Bashagha spoke convincingly that by 24 December 2021, Libya will have a president elected by popular and direct vote for the first time.
To further cement this new hope, it was announced on 1 June 2021 that a new set of peace talks with the Libyan transitional government will be hosted by Germany in Berlin on June 23. The Berlin conference in June will mark the first time the transitional government of Libya is represented at such an event.