When Ghassan Salame, head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), unveiled his ‘Action Plan for Libya’ on the side-lines of this year’s UN general assembly, he stressed that ‘sequencing’ was essential for its success.
Yet this doesn’t square with remarks made yesterday in his joint press conference with the head of Libya’s High National Elections Commission (HNEC) to announce the start of voter registration. “Voter registration began on 6 December and will last for 60 days,” said Emad Sayeh, HNEC’s commissioner, adding that registration of Libyans living abroad will be done on the Internet starting 01 February 2018.
Some have interpreted the move as an indirect way to announce the death of UNSMIL’s Action Plan. Others dismissed it as a stunt to divert the attention from 17 December, the date which many believe will mark the expiration of Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA).
Something Doesn't Add up
On 20 September, Mr Salame addressed a high-level meeting in New York to explain his four-stage plan which the UN hopes to conclude Libya’s political transition. It starts by adopting amendments to the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) as the only valid framework for political settlement in the country. Second, he would convene a ‘National Conference’ to endorse the amendments. Third, getting the House of Representatives (HoR) and the Constitutional Drafting Assembly (CDA) to produce a referendum law and a new constitution respectively. The final stage is a referendum on the constitution followed by presidential and parliamentary elections by December 2018. “Once the [LPA] amendments have been adopted, the second stage is a National Conference… Within a year from now, we must reach the final stages of the process. These are a referendum for the Constitution, and then, within the framework of the Constitution, the election of a President and a Parliament, henceforth clearly marking the end of the transition,” explained Mr Salame.
The last few days saw multiple statements from Libya’s international partners calling for elections. It remains unclear, however, whether that represents a genuine shift of policy by resorting to elections as 'plan B’ due to the failure to implement UN’s Action Plan, or merely a choreographed stunt to divert the attention from GNA’s expiration date. “I hope that in the coming weeks elections will be held in Libya in accordance with the Libyan Constitution,” French president Emmanuel Macron said yesterday, just two days after his Embassy in Tripoli donated Euro 200,000 to support the Libyan elections. The Dutch government donated USD 1.65 million.
Whatever the reason behind the calls for election, Libya’s political landscape remains unprepared for such an ambitious goal. Politically, the country continues to be deeply divided between two governments, the GNA which is based in Tripoli and backed by the UN, and another one based in the eastern city of al-Bayda. Libya’s internationally-recognized parliament which is based in the east is yet to endorse the GNA. Security wise, militias continue to rule Tripoli and Libya’s western region, while most of the east is controlled by Khalifa Hifter’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA).
Libya had two elections in the last 7 years both of which have failed to solve the crisis either due to some factions’ refusal to acknowledge the result or to militias’ interference in politics. How can the UN hold fair elections amidst such chaos remains to be seen.