Elections in Libya: risks and prospects



Note: this is a machine translation from the original Russian text

Only about a month remains before the elections in Libya scheduled for December 24, which many analysts and experts call nothing less than "fateful" for the state torn apart by the civil war. At the same time, there are more and more unexpected turns.

So, on November 16, the leader of the Libyan National Army (LNA) Khalifa Haftar officially registered as a candidate for the presidency of the country in the eastern city of Benghazi.

In this context, British experts from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) note that this initiative of the Field Marshal may fail, and it's not even that at one time he was declared a war criminal by the Government of National Accord (PNC).

The problem is that, according to the legislation of Libya, which, however, is incomplete today, a person with a criminal record or dual, triple, etc. citizenship cannot run for president. Recall that Haftar, who at one time had ties with the National Front for the Salvation of Libya and the CIA, planned an invasion of Libya, but Muammar Gaddafi then prevented such a course of events by staging a coup in Chad, where Haftar was. As a result, the Americans evacuated the Field Marshal and 350 of his supporters to the States, where he was granted American citizenship. After that, Haftar lived for about 20 years in the city of Vienne, West Virginia.

However, the EIU adds in this context that since the election rules are still unclear, Haftar may have some leeway. For example, a field marshal may abandon his military role in the Libyan crisis, which is provided for in the electoral legislation procedures proposed by the Libyan House of Representatives.

In addition, on November 14, it became known that the son of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, Seif al–Islam Gaddafi, who has not been an active political figure in the country for the past ten years, also registered as a presidential candidate. However, despite his strong ties with local tribes, he is subject to an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2011, according to which he was not convicted. Despite the extreme politicization and, I'm sorry, the uselessness of such an organization as the ICC, for Gaddafi, this may prove to be a serious legal obstacle.

In addition, in the same 2011, Seif al-Islam Gaddafi was arrested by militias from the city of Zintan while heading towards Niger. Already in 2015, the Court of Appeal in Tripoli handed him a death sentence, which, however, was never carried out, since the Zintans refused to extradite him. Moreover, after a certain time, Gaddafi was released altogether.

The Institute of the Middle East (IBV) emphasizes that the return of Seif al-Islam to Libyan politics is due, contrary to a number of statements by various analysts, not because he is a "Western project", but because he has established contacts among the Muslim Brotherhood (a terrorist organization banned in the Russian Federation) and other jihadists. As well as a significant amount of compromising material on their local figures.

In addition, he has control over the extensive foreign holdings of the family of the former Libyan leader, enjoys the support of his Gaddaf tribe. But the most important thing, as noted in the IBV — "it was Seif al-Islam who at one time was behind the project of incorporating moderate and not-so-Islamists into the political structure of the Jamahiriya at the last stage of his father's rule."

It should also be noted that the Libyan military prosecutor, in turn, also complicated the situation for both candidates by officially asking them to suspend their candidacies, emphasizing the significant risk that the elections will be disrupted as the election campaign begins.

At the same time, the country's Supreme National Election Commission announced that after completing the registration process, the electoral body will check the credentials of candidates, and then announce who is eligible to run.

In this regard, analysts at the Economist Intelligence Unit believe that both Haftar and Gaddafi will eventually be banned from running. And this forecast has really already begun to come true, albeit partially so far. On November 24, Gaddafi's son Seif al-Islam was excluded from the electoral lists for "legal reasons".

Abdel Hamid Dbeiba, the Prime Minister of the Interim Government of National Unity (PNE), became another unexpected candidate for the elections for some. This decision was probably a surprise because he had repeatedly stated earlier, and also had a number of agreements that he would not run for the presidency. But even his inability to keep his own word is not the main problem.

Analysts from the Institute of the Middle East note that, firstly, at the beginning of 2021, his appointment to the post of head of the Government of National Unity implied that Dbeiba was to become a neutral figure whose main task was the unification and integration of institutions and authorities. Which, of course, he couldn't handle. Neither the political nor the economic split in the country has been eliminated. Moreover, the LNA, led by Haftar, still controls most of the east of Libya.

Secondly, in order to run for the presidency, Dbeiba had to leave the post of prime minister, as well as refuse to perform state functions at least three months before the elections. The IBV notes that all the other candidates, who are already more than 23, have fulfilled this condition, but Dbeiba has not.

Thirdly, the very appointment of Dbeiba to the post of Prime Minister was very ambiguous. At the hearings within the framework of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum under the auspices of the UN, a number of participants directly accused the politician and a former businessman from Misrata of corruption. Nevertheless, he became a compromise figure, which satisfied most of the participants.

At the same time, it would not be superfluous to add that another presidential candidate, Akil Saleh, ex–speaker of the House of Representatives, even expressed a vote of no confidence in Prime Minister Dbeiba for misuse of budget funds, as well as for a skew in the distribution of funding in favor of Tripolitania and to the detriment of Cyrenaica.

Speaking about the elections in general, we note the fact that the situation in Libya has been more or less stable over the past year. Moreover, investors and international observers even suggested that after the election campaign, a government could be formed as early as early 2022, which would allow for the implementation of post-war reconstruction projects in the country. Moreover, all major investors and countries with their interests in the African state, including Russia, China, the EU, as well as Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, etc., will fight for them.

EIU analysts even forecast real GDP growth of about 12%, which will be facilitated by high oil prices and, as a result, high export revenues. And according to Fitch Solutions estimates, real GDP will grow by another 4.6% in 2022, and by 6% in 2023. At the same time, nominal GDP in 2021 will amount to 10.3 billion dollars, in 2022 – 11.9 billion, and in 2023 – 13.3 billion. The population will also continue to increase. According to forecasts, this year it will reach 6.96 million people, and in 2023 it will reach 7.12 million.

The growth of nominal and real GDP, the creation of a stable government and government in general – all this could really create conditions for the influx of large investments and, as a result, the beginning of the revival of a once prosperous African state.

In this context, the elections scheduled for December 24 should be considered as a key risk to the stability and prospects of Libya. If controlled elections are held in the country, which will not lead to protests or a new round of civil war, then there will be chances for the implementation of positive scenarios, and if the situation in the country heats up, there will be no talk of economic growth, attracting foreign investment and at least some prosperity.

At the same time, a significant number of factors can provoke a new crisis. Including the non-admission to the elections of any of the candidates, be it Haftar, Gaddafi, which has already happened, as well as Saleh or Dbeib.

A number of analysts, including from the Economist Intelligence Unit, believe that the rather tense political situation in Libya may lead to the postponement of elections to 2022, even despite the fact that the process of registering candidates has already begun.

The IBV, in turn, also emphasizes that today it is not clear how the security of polling stations will be ensured in Libya, whether the judiciary will be able to promptly and fairly resolve disputes related to elections, as well as how likely punishments will be carried out. Can election organizers guarantee that independent observers will have access to polling stations, even in remote areas? Has the Supreme National Election Commission organized an independent external audit of the voter register?

All these questions suggest that if the elections take place, their results will be extremely doubtful and each of the candidates will try to challenge them. In Libyan realities – probably with the use of weapons. Such a scenario is also a significant risk that will remain on the agenda regardless of whether the elections are postponed or not.