Libya’s main goal should be to find ways to move forward with the vote rather than the fate of the interim government after elections were postponed last week, a senior UN official said on Monday.
The UN secretary-general’s special advisor on Libya, Stephanie Williams, told Reuters in an interview that most Libyans wanted an end to what she called “this endless period of transition”.
The election was scheduled for December 24, but was delayed after disputes over ground rules, including the eligibility of candidates and the role of justice in appeals.
The east-based parliament is debating how long to delay the elections and whether the Interim Government of National Unity (GNU) and Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, a presidential candidate, can stay in place.
Parliament met on Monday to vote on the Libyan electoral commission’s proposal to hold the vote on January 24. According to this proposal, the presidential election would be followed by parliamentary elections a month later, on February 15.
When asked if she believed the GNU mandate was still valid, Williams replied that it was up to parliament, but that “the real goal must be to produce an election.”
She asked if the Libyan political class would again “put in place another government which will run for a few more years, which is once again not entirely representative of the Libyan people”.
Any change of government will have to be made in accordance with the rules set by previous political agreements that have been internationally recognized, she added.
However, she said any election must be held on an equal footing in which no candidate enjoys the benefits of holding an official position – a clear reference to Dbeibah.
“Everyone should take a step back for a period of time and that means all candidates who want to have one foot in and one foot out have both feet out,” she said.
Simultaneous legislative and presidential elections were demanded by a roadmap approved last year by the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF), a group Williams convened last year when she was the acting envoy of the UN.
The LPDF roadmap gave the forum, made up of 75 UN-selected delegates from Libya’s fragmented factions, the right to take certain actions in the event of obstruction by the country’s existing political entities.
Williams said she had not yet decided what role the LPDF could still play in the process, but had held meetings with small groups among its members and could continue to do so.
“I had a meeting last week with a smaller subset. It was a consultative session and I could continue to do so,” she said. “I still weigh all of this,” she added.
One of the challenges of the elections was the divisive numbers. One of the most controversial was the eastern coup leader General Khalifa Haftar, who from 2019 led a year-long campaign but ultimately failed to take Tripoli by force.
Last week, he met in Benghazi two other main presidential candidates from western Libya, former Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha and former Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Maiteeq.
The content of their talks was not disclosed, but an adviser to Bashagha told AFP that the purpose of the visit was “to break down the barriers … and show that it is possible to s ‘unite”.
Haftar was not the only favorite in the polls.
Seif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of Muammar, was also in the fray despite charges of war crimes and an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court.
Libya has been relatively calm since a historic ceasefire between the eastern and western camps in October last year, but despite high hopes for peace, the UN has struggled to overcome the deep and complex divisions of the country.
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