Libya’s electoral body, the High National Elections Commission (HNEC), said on Saturday that elections can be held once a political agreement is reached as the North African country runs the risk of returning to instability.
American Ambassador Richard Norland met with Imad al-Sayeh, the head of the HNEC to discuss developments in the crisis-stricken country.
“It was encouraging to hear Dr. al-Sayeh confirm HNEC’s readiness to conduct elections once a political agreement has been reached on the way ahead,” an embassy statement quoted Norland as saying.
The American diplomat said the joint committee of the parliament, known as the House of Representatives, and the High Council of State proposed by U.N. adviser Stephanie Williams “represents the next practical step toward this goal, and we urge all sides to support this process.”
Libya failed to hold its first presidential elections on Dec. 24 under a United Nations-led reconciliation effort.
Now the country finds itself once again with two rival administrations. The country’s east-based House of Representatives named a new prime minister, former Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha, to lead a new interim government in February. The lawmakers claimed the mandate of interim Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, who is based in the capital, Tripoli, expired when the election failed to take place. However, Dbeibah insists that he will remain prime minister until elections are held and the High Council of State, which advises the interim government, has said it was “incorrect” of parliament to name a new prime minister before holding elections.
Last week, Undersecretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo told the U.N. Security Council she is encouraged by the support for a U.N. initiative to convene a joint committee from Libya’s rival House of Representatives and High State Council with a goal of reaching agreement by both bodies “on a constitutional basis that would lead to elections this year.” DiCarlo warned that the continuing standoff over “executive legitimacy” could again lead to two parallel administrations, “instability and possibly unrest and deal a severe blow to the prospect of elections.”
U.N. special adviser on Libya, Williams, on March 3 asked the House of Representatives speaker and High State Council president to appoint six members to the joint committee and both responded favorably. The council nominated its representatives last week and the U.N. expects the House of Representatives to do the same in the coming days.
Williams has offered to mediate between Dbeibah and Bashagha to overcome the current political impasse.
Libya plunged into chaos after a NATO-backed 2011 uprising toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. For years, it has been split between rival administrations in the east and the west, each supported by an array of militias and foreign governments.
In April 2019, east-based putschist Gen. Khalifa Haftar and his forces, backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), launched an offensive to capture Tripoli. Haftar’s campaign collapsed after Turkey and Qatar stepped up their military support for the Tripoli government.
Mediated by Williams, then the acting U.N. envoy, an October 2020 cease-fire agreement led to the formation of a transitional government with Dbeibah as prime minister and scheduled elections for Dec. 24, which are now postponed.
The United States and the United Kingdom strongly supported Williams’ efforts to promote dialogue among the feuding parties that leads to elections, but Russia did not.