Libyan presidential candidate Bashagha

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Libya’s former Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha, who remains the only politician to publicly announce his candidacy in the December 24 presidential election, prioritises security and economic reform.

The measurements end a year that started badly for the 59-year-old.

In February, he was narrowly beaten in the election for the post of interim prime minister as part of UN-led peace efforts.

That same month, he survived what his aides called a “well-planned” assassination attempt – a bullet fired at his convoy on a motorway near Tripoli.

But Bashagha, a heavyweight in Libyan politics and a champion of efforts to integrate the North African country’s many militias into the state, is not backing down.

He wants to get Libya back on its feet by reviving the crisis-stricken economy, he told Agence France-Presse (AFP) in an interview in his garden in the suburbs of Tripoli.

“Security goes hand in hand with economic reforms,” ​​he said.

“There must be an urgent plan for economic reform and to strengthen the dinar against the dollar, and the private sector must be encouraged.”

The measurements in December are part of UN-led efforts to turn the page into a decade of violence in the North African country, just over a year after a landmark of ceasefire between eastern and western camps.

Bashagha, a major player in Libyan politics and an anti-corruption activist, has intensified efforts in recent months to absorb armed groups in state security forces while trying to bring back those who act outside the state, a campaign rejected by some groups.

The 58-year-old served as interior minister for the UN-backed National Accord Government (GNA) since 2018 and had been a favorite to lead a new interim government during UN-led peacekeeping operations following a ceasefire in October last year.

The post finally went to Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, a 61-year-old engineer who has called for reconstruction, democracy and reunification in Libya.

Reconstruction

Dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who held power for four decades, oversaw a centrally planned economy that relied on revenues from Africa’s largest oil reserves.

That system collapsed when the country fell into conflict after Gaddafi was overthrown and killed in 2011, leaving many Libyans in poverty and without access to basic services.

The incoming administration will face enormous challenges in rebuilding damaged infrastructure and government institutions.

Bashagha said gathering the country must involve local authorities.

“Local authorities must be strengthened through a decentralized system, through municipalities and provincial authorities,” he said.

Libya has seen a year of relative peace since a ceasefire in October following the failed attempt by East Putz general Khalifa Haftar to seize the capital, Tripoli, in the west, but bitter rivalries remain.

Some analysts have warned of a return to the conflict if the votes are canceled – or withheld, but give questionable results.

But “the election must go ahead,” Bashagha warned.

Otherwise, “there would surely be a political conflict and extreme polarization, which I fear could turn into an armed conflict.”

‘Personal interests’

In the run-up to the election, disputes over their legal basis have been overshadowed.

Bashagha said, “some politicians do not want to see elections held because it would threaten their personal interests.”

Some Libyans “also fear the choice of someone inappropriate, either from the previous regime or a military person,” he said.

In September, Libya’s eastern parliament approved a bill on presidential investigations that critics say went a long way and was tailor-made to allow a bid from General Haftar, who then temporarily lined up from the military, to run.

Seif al-Islam, the son of Gadhafi, gave a rare interview to the New York Times in July in which he suggested that he could also stand up.

The measurements follow many years of UN efforts to find a way out of the violence that has plagued Libya since the fall of Gadhafi.

Bashagha participated in UN-led talks in Morocco in 2015 that led to the establishment of a previous unity government.

But it was his tenure as interior minister from 2018 to 2021 that brought him onto the national stage, with his campaign to reduce the influence of Libya’s large range of militias and integrate them into the state.

“Libya needs a complete overhaul of its security apparatus,” Bashagha told AFP.

“It needs a single army, something that should not be difficult under a united government.”

Bashagha, from the port city of Misrata, is one of the few Libyan politicians who has good relations with all major foreign actors in the country’s conflict. He told AFP that Libya would also need help from the UN and the European Union on irregular migration.

The country has become an important channel for migrants boarding unsweetened boats in search of a better life in Europe. Those trapped in Libya are often subjected to horrific abuses by militias.

“Libya has a major problem with its southern borders, which are beyond the control of the state,” Bashagha said.

“Borders should be controlled using advanced technology – but we should invest in certain categories of migrants because Libya needs skilled workers,” he added.

Bashagha has defended the presence of Turkish forces, which he said had helped UN-backed authorities in Tripoli defend the capital from forces loyal to Haftar, who himself could become a rival presidential candidate.

He noted that it was the former Libyan government under then-Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj who had called for Turkish support “to help defend Tripoli.”

“And because of Turkish aid, it was possible to defend the city and the attack failed,” he said.

While Turkey and Qatar have been the main supporters of the internationally recognized GNA, Haftar has received support from Egypt, Russia, France and the United Arab Emirates.

In April 2019, Haftar and his forces launched an offensive to try to capture Tripoli. His 14-month campaign collapsed after Turkey increased its military support for the UN-backed government.

A ceasefire agreement in October, which required all foreign fighters and mercenaries to leave Libya within 90 days, led to an agreement for the transitional government and elections in December.

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