Written by Piero Messina exclusively for SouthFront.
The road map for the Libyan elections has become an obstacle course. A small spark is enough to start a new civil war. The vote is scheduled for next 24 December. But there is no agreement on anything: from the institutional rules for elections, to the criteria for accessing the vote, what to vote on, and how to manage the state budget.
Another obstacle to overcome is understanding who to entrust, within the national unity government, the delicate task of Minister of Defense.
The electoral road map is under the control of UNSMIL, the United Nations mission in Libya. Will those who brought war and destruction to the country be able to establish the new democratic rules and enforce them? Judging by the results of the Geneva Peace Dialogue Forum, the diplomatic work of the international community is dangerously close to a dead end.
Mutual accusations between the various factions blew up a possible agreement in Geneva, so a new postponement was decided, in search of the time necessary to try to find an institutional solution that satisfies everyone.
In the background, the role of the transitional government of national unity led by Abdulhamid Dbeibah is becoming increasingly fragile. From Tobruk to Benghazi, the national unity executive is perceived as non-neutral, too condescending to the geopolitical strategies of Turkey, which still today with its troops, regular and mercenary, controls Tripolitania.
Tensions between the various political and institutional souls that divide the country risk plunging Libya into chaos. Risk of a new civil war cannot be excluded. General Khalifa Haftar – in command of the only real organized army in the country, the Lybian National Army – has also made it known that he is ready at any time to resume the march on Tripoli.
Almost ten years after the fall of Mohammar Gaddafi, Libya is once again in danger of institutional collapse. In many areas of the country, interruptions to public services are frequent, from water to electricity. In Africa’s main oil-producing country, petrol and fuel are in short supply, so much so that airlines and the military logistics system are in crisis. The economic crisis hits Libyan families hard and the health pressure caused by Covid 2019 is not under control.
What happened in the last meetings of the Geneva Forum?
Libyan delegates failed to find an agreement on the elections. On the one hand (Muslim Brotherhood and political factions of Tripolitania, Zuwara and Misurata) are asked to vote only to elect the Parliament. According to this thesis, the legislative body will have to appoint the president of the state.
This view will never be accepted by the Tobruk parliament and by the factions supporting General Haftar in Cyrenaica and Fezzan. Nobody openly says so, but a substantial part of the Libyan political entourage is working on a ticket that will bring General Haftar as head of state to the government of the country and Saif Al Islam Gaddafi as head of the executive.
Bringing a member of the Gaddafi family back to power is an evocative plot and would enjoy enormous support across all regions of the country. For the United Nations, however, it would be an unprecedented defeat. With Gaddafi’s ghost at the door, the United Nations is insisting that the decision come from the Geneva Forum.
Thus, the political war against General Haftar began again. The first attack on the leader of Cyrenaica came from one of the most influential members of the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood (allies of Ankara). Khaled Al-Mishri , Head of the High Council of State (HCS), stated that it was Khalifa Haftar who deliberately obstructed the consensus of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) in Geneva. Al Mishri said that there is no logical justification for the bypass of the referendum on the draft constitution and added that Haftar sent his son to Geneva, specifically to pressure certain members of the LPDF to push for elections to take place without a constitution. Al-Mishri further pointed out that LPDF has failed due to the tenacious attitude of certain parties on the forum, whose objective is to impose elections without specific conditions in the draft constitution regarding candidacy. He called on Haftar to take off his military uniform, give up his foreign citizenship and settle his legal status regarding direct accusations of war crimes if he wants to run for the elections. To support the thesis of Al Mishri came the declaration of the US envoy and ambassador to Libya, Richard Norland. A classic tale: at some point in history, when there is a choice, U.S. policy in the Mena area always coincides with the positions of the Muslim Brotherhood.
U.S. Ambassador said they had watched the LPDF meetings this week in Geneva closely, including several members who appear to be trying to insert “poison pills” that will ensure elections will not happen — either by prolonging the constitutional process. He said Poison pills, analysts read Haftar.
While waiting to understand what will happen at the next meetings of the Geneva Forum, Libya is trying to create the minimum conditions for organizing the elections. The Libyan High National Elections Commission (HNEC) has opened voter registration system and said it will be closed on July 31 ahead of the general elections on December 24. The registration system works through a digital app linked to a telephone number (15015). That app should be used to register all those with voting rights. In a country without electricity and with telephone networks down, it seems like a joke.
It remains to be understood what political game Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah is playing. Officially the prime minister supports the electoral map. But not everything is clear. For many political analysts, Dbeibah would prefer to postpone the elections by a year or two and remain at the helm of the transitional government. This is the only way to explain his attempts at mediation with the political forces of Fezzan and Cyrenaica.
Dbeibah, however, must solve a huge political and economic problem. The Budget Law is blocked in the Tobruk Parliament. The premier attended the last parliamentary session. It was an unprecedented political defeat. As soon as he arrived in Tobruk, the prime minister realized he was seen as an enemy. Turkish flags have been placed on the asphalt of the streets of Tobruk: they forced the procession of government cars to trample on those flags, which for the people of Tobruk and Benghazi represent the banner of the Islamist occupation.
The work of the parliament was just as tough. The session saw a lot of criticism directed to Dbeibah regarding second and third chapters of the expenditure item of the budget, Foreign Minister’ performance, General Electricity Company’s work, and COVID-19 response. Pro-Haftar members said the issue regarding the Government of National Unity performance is that Dbeibah didn’t meet with Haftar, saying if this was done and they agreed on naming a Defense Minister and allocating a budget for Haftar’s General Command, the budget bill will be passed.
Dbeibah’s concessions to the Tobruk parliament have so far not been enough. The Minister of Defense has to be appointed. For the Tobruk parliament, the natural candidate is Haftar. Dbeibah does not have the political strength to impose this choice. So he decided to proceed with the appointment of two Defense Ministers. Speaking at a House of Representatives in Tobruk, Dbeibah said he had consulted with the JMC members and they promised to choose two deputies for the Defense Ministry, saying the Government of National Unity had provided the JMC with all its needs and paid off its financial debts.
Dbeibah added that he is considering moving the headquarters of National Oil Corporation and Libyan Airlines to Benghazi.
Talking about Covid 2019 crisis he said: ”we have provided 600.000 vaccines for Coronavirus and paid part of the financial cost. We are thinking of shutting down borders with Tunisia for two weeks over the spread of Coronavirus in there. Our health system is in dire need for reconstruction. There have been smuggling incidents of medicines imported by the government to the black market.”
These promises that were not accepted by the House of representatives. In Tobruk, Dbeibah is considered a longa manus of Ankara. At the end, premier’s visit to Tobruk has turned into a thriller. When the premier boarded the presidential plane that was supposed to take him back to Tripoli, the airport lights went out. The commander of the plane tried to contact the control tower of the airport. He had no answer. The premier’s security service feared an armed attack. In the end, the plane carrying the Libyan premier on board took off in the darkness of Tobruk with the lights of the spare cars that accompanied the aircraft in the taxiing and take-off phases. It wasn’t a black out.
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