Libya postpones presidential election at last minute amid renewed threat of civil unrest

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, right, the son of late Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi, is shown last month registering his candidacy for the country’s presidential elections. (AP)
CAIRO — The first round of Libya’s much-anticipated presidential election will not proceed on Friday as previously planned, a parliamentary election committee announced Wednesday, solidifying expectations that the vote was untenable amid several political disputes.

The delay, which was widely expected as debate rages over the validity of the process and challenges to certain powerful candidates’ eligibility, comes as tensions appear to be ramping up in the country, which is just emerging from a civil war.

Libya’s High National Election Commission proposed in a statement Wednesday that elections instead be held on Jan. 24, citing a range of difficulties it encountered in organizing the elections, including “the inadequacy of electoral legislation with regard to the judiciary’s role in electoral appeals and disputes.”

Confusion over the legislation “created a state of uncertainty on whether the commission’s decisions were right with regard to its exclusion of a number of candidates who did not meet the conditions,” the statement said.

The delay comes despite the commission’s “technical readiness” to hold the election on Friday as planned, it said.

In an interview in the capital of Tripoli late last month, the commission’s chairman, Emad al-Sayah, said voting is crucial to determining whether Libya “will continue on the track of democracy and peaceful devolution of power … or go to square zero, where war will take place.”

Observers and civilians have been divided over whether the election, which includes bids by several of Libya’s most controversial and divisive figures, would ratchet up fears over renewed conflict or help to defuse them. In recent days, forces from several armed groups mobilized fighters in the capital, prompting the United Nations to warn that such behavior “creates tensions and increases the risk of clashes that could spiral into conflict.”

Three of the most prominent candidates include interim prime minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah, who had previously said he would not run in the election; commander Khalifa Hifter, who controls much of the country’s east and previously launched an assault on Tripoli; and Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of former dictator Moammar Gaddafi, who was overthrown and killed during the country’s 2011 revolution.

All three men registered to run and then faced challenges to their eligibility in recent weeks. Their allegiances are divided throughout the country, largely along geographical lines.

The younger Gaddafi is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity allegedly committed in 2011, and Hifter has faced war crimes allegations in courts in the United States, where he lived for decades before returning to Libya.

The international community had thrown its support behind the planned elections, hoping the vote could help lead Libya out of the decade of chaos that followed the elder Gaddafi’s overthrow amid a NATO-backed uprising. Amid a power void in the years that followed, the country descended into chaos as rival camps battled for control of the oil-rich nation of 7 million. At a conference in Paris last month, foreign powers insisted on the importance of the Dec. 24 vote and threatened to sanction those who attempted to obstruct it.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli issued a statement urging “steps that can continue to de-escalate the tense security situation in Tripoli or elsewhere in Libya” and calling on leaders to “expeditiously address all legal and political obstacles” to holding elections.

“The United States shares the concern and disappointment of the vast majority of Libyans who expect to have the opportunity to vote for their country’s future,” the statement said.

“This is what we call a very typical chronicle of a death foretold,” said a Western diplomat who works on Libya and spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation. “Everyone knew [the delay] was going to happen.”

Now, concerns are mounting over what will happen on Dec. 25, when the interim government was scheduled to step down under the political transition plan. Diplomats have been preparing in recent weeks for the postponement of elections and are now pushing for only a short delay in hopes of avoiding the need to overhaul the plan, the diplomat said.

Libya Postpones Presidential Election – Bing News


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