Libya’s tortuous path towards a constitution and elections

Members of a newly elected Libyan interim government pledged in Geneva this week to take the country to national elections on December 24 of this year, an ambitious timeline studded with almost impossible challenges.

The interim authorities nominated by the 75-member Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) under the umbrella of the United Nations are to replace the Government of National Accord (GNA), considered no longer able to usher the country into a phase of national reconciliation and state-building.

The three-member Presidential Council (PC) and the prime minister will have the crucial task of preparing the ground for fair and transparent national elections and ensuring the safe participation of their citizens in the electoral process.

For elections to take place, the GNA and the outgoing PC will have to peacefully dissolve to give way to the new unity executive, which will require the endorsement of Libya’s parliament. Conflicting financial institutions will have to be unified, armed groups dismantled, essential civil infrastructure repaired, and security restored to allow half a million internally displaced citizens to return home and take part in the elections.

If foreign interference were to cease, the interim government would be capable of implementing all the above by the election deadline, according to Stephanie Williams, the outgoing UN acting special envoy for Libya. Realistically, the 10-month long path that separates Libyans from the ballot box looks rather like a minefield to supporters of the vote.

Precarious ceasefire

Restoring security to allow citizens’ participation in the war-ravaged country where armed groups and militias control vast areas of territory is the most difficult challenge.

Libyans have witnessed a precarious ceasefire since October last year, when military officers from the two main power contenders, the UN-recognised GNA in Tripoli and renegade military commander General Khalifa Haftar in the east, brokered an end to hostilities.

However, the two sides have exploited the relative calm to entrench their positions in central Libya along the Sirte-Jufra “red-line” and to rearm. Haftar’s Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF), supported by Russia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates, have been strengthening control over airbases in Sirte and in the southern region to prevent an advance of Tripoli’s militias further east.

Meanwhile, Tripoli’s GNA continues to receive assistance and supplies from its main ally, Turkey, and the outgoing PC has created a new security agency led by prominent armed groups under its control.

The two sides, therefore, have regrouped and resupplied seemingly getting ready for a resumption of hostilities. Thousands of foreign fighters remain in the country despite an exit deadline set by the ceasefire agreement that expired on January 23.

“Realistically, I don’t think we are beyond the military phase in Libya,” Mustafa Fetouri, a Libyan academic and journalist told Al Jazeera. “I think another violent phase is unfolding.”

Military talks and political dialogue

Despite the military build-up, the Joint Military Commission that brokered the ceasefire, dubbed the “5+5”, is considered unanimously as the most effective of the three negotiating tracks conducted so far, including economic and political talks.

The ceasefire has allowed a stalling political dialogue to gain momentum, with some productive meetings between political and regional factions within the LPDF taking place in recent months in Tunisia, Egypt and ultimately, Geneva.

 

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