Haftar’s election bid continues as the UN plan is threatened
2017 ended with a new deadlock and confusion in Libyan politics as the UN Action Plan for Libya launched in September seems now to be hinged solely on holding elections. Khalifa Haftar’s about-turn in favour of elections has poured cold water on hardliner supporters’ efforts to authorize him as a ‘military ruler’.
On 27 December, the Libyan National Army (LNA) spokesperson Ahmed Mismari gave a long press release reaffirming the LNA’s commitment to elections on conditions that the High National Elections Commission (HNEC) is restructured to ensure that ‘Islamist’ elements do not infiltrate the process. The following day Haftar gave a television interview reiterating the same message but insisted that if elections don’t come to pass there is no way ‘but authorisation’ of the LNA to take power.
The UN roadmap launched by the UN envoy Ghassan Salame in September had three main sequential milestones: firstly, consensus on amendments to the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) by the House of Representatives (HoR) and the High Council of State (HCS) producing a new interim government; secondly, a national ‘conference’ gathering establishing consensus principles between all political parties to augment the LPA and constitutional process; and finally the holding of a national referendum to approve the constitution, with elections to then be held based on the terms of the new constitution. Stage one now seems to have been completely dashed after efforts to amend the LPA were derailed by the HoR’s latest attempts to unilaterally pass LPA amendments and appoint a new Central Bank of Libya (CBL) governor without HCS consensus. Stage two, the holding of a broad national conference to approve the LPA and draft constitution which Salame had originally planned for February 2018, also seems in doubt. It seems that Salame has now skipped straight to the third and final stage.
Salame’s recent attempts to bridge the emerging rifts between factions and protect the validity of the LPA appear to have widened various divides instead, as has the prolonged ambiguity by which Salame has thus far managed the process. The net result of the new focus on elections above all else is likely to be that the current Government of National Accord (GNA) will remain unchanged until elections are held, meaning that Fayez al-Serraj and his government will likely remain in power in Tripoli while Khalifa Haftar remains in de-facto power in eastern Libya.
While this focus on elections could force Libya’s main rival factions to dampen their military ambitions and focus instead on the political game to ensure they maintain their legitimacy both inside Libya and internationally, as seems to be the case with Haftar’s change of heart, the rush to elections without first approving and implementing a constitution could have disastrous results and risks accentuating divisions and institutional fragmentation. The failure to reach a compromise over the terms of the LPA highlights the difficulties of reversing an agreement or framework that did not have the support of Libya’s myriad factions. If the same situation is allowed to persist with the constitution, then this could lay the foundations for many more years of instability and ‘transition’.