After 42 years of dictatorship and ten years of civil war, the popular will for democracy is strong in Libya. Pictured: Election of the Transitional Government Presidential Council at the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum in Geneva, February 5, 2021. Photo: Violaine Martin / UN Geneva. Source: Flickr.

Interview

The Libyan people are thirsty for democratic change

With the forthcoming presidential election on December 24, Libya, since Gaddafi's fall 10 years ago, is facing a crucial transition phase. Despite successes in holding municipal elections and the fact that the implementation of removing foreign mercenaries has begun, it is still uncertain whether decisive election laws will have time to enter into force on election day.

When Libyan delegates within the framework of a UN-led dialogue forum in Geneva voted to hold parliamentary and presidential elections on 24 December 2021, the first flash of light the country has seen since the permanent ceasefire came into force in March 2020 appeared. Democratic elections sound clear, according to the latest opinion polls.

But there is a heavy uncertainty about the upcoming election. In early October, it was announced that the parliamentary elections would be postponed until February 2022, which testifies to the deep political disagreement that still prevails between the country's two competing legislative assemblies in Tripoli in the west and Tobruk in the east. They have still not succeeded in agreeing on the necessary electoral laws and constitutional amendments that would make it possible to organize elections.

So far, the timetable for the presidential election is fixed and until then, the coalition government Government of National Unity (GNU), which was appointed via UN mediation in March 2021, will succeed in leading the country and keeping the two major centers of power in the west and east in check until the general elections have been held.

A crucial transition phase

There is no doubt about what is at stake ahead of the upcoming election. The hope is that this will be the path that leads the country out of the protracted misery of civil war, institutional fragility and relative lawlessness and lawlessness.

But holding elections before institutional reconstruction can be dangerous.

- The country's various fragments and institutions should first be united under a common constitution, says Libyan experts Moncef Djaziri in an interview with the PSC Report.

On the other hand, a delay in the election constitute motives for Khalifa Haftar to once again try to seize power in Tripoli by force, as GNU's raison d'être lies in the fact that they succeed in holding elections on 24 December. Until recently, Haftar was the general of Libya's national army and is now dusting off his jacket for his run for president.

- But above all, depriving the Libyan people of a universal right to postpone the election, says Stephanie Williams, the UN's former acting Libyan envoy, in an interview with Utvecklingsmagasinet. She continues: 

- An almost orientalist condescending mindset is approaching when Western analysts say that Libya should not have democratic elections. 

Experienced assessors fear, however, that it is time for a repeat of the story if the forthcoming election is held. 

- Just like after the bloody election outcome in 2014 where unclear circumstances over the election triggered a long-running civil war, type Hammargren asked, associate senior employee at the MENA program at the Foreign Policy Institute, in World Policy Day Issues. 

The same ominous voices say about how the UN-led election process is in practice dead and buried.

Lessons learned from the UN-led peace process

The reason for the skepticism is that the UN peace process in Libya has a long history of failing to take into account the country's conflict-ridden past and not initiating grassroots solutions.

 - Libyans have long felt pressured by the international community to ignore old disagreements and conflicts that may stand in the way of national reconciliation, type Ezra Elbakoush, senior project officer for Libya, at the US Institute of Peace.

Valentine 2014 was an example of a hasty attempt at peace and stability, he says.  

New concepts, terms and policies which, in the name of goodwill, was imposed on Libyan society had little chance of being implemented by state institutions eroded during Gaddafi's reign. The path to democracy must include, with the support of the international community, that Libyans talk to Libyans - not that the UN and the outside world impose maladapted institutional poster solutions that further fuel violence, says Esra Elbakoush.

These are lessons learned by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), says Stephanie Williams, regarding her work in gluing together the hundreds of shards of glass the country is divided into..

She describes the peace work's journey from going from focusing solely on convening Libya's divided legislature - the House of Representatives and the Prime Minister - to initiating a more inclusive grassroots political healing process, led by the Libyan political dialogue forum LPDF. Among other things, special focus was placed on including women, young people and previously excluded Gaddafi sympathizers in the talks.

The five necessary criteria of the election

Stephanie Williams lists five criteria that need to be met in order for the elections to be held and not have to be postponed once again - a demand from the public, technical preparedness, political agreement, a legal framework and security. Oshe emphasizes the certainty about the legal framework of the election as particularly serious. 

But a positive aspect, she says, is that, between West and East, the Joint Military Commission has begun a serious implementation of the plan that seeks to drive out all the various foreign armed groups. Something that has been described as the main powder keg standing in the way of a peaceful election process.

In addition, the will of the people and the technical capacity of the High National Electoral Commission (HNEC) are in place, says Stephanie Williams. As proof of that, she cites the fact that municipal elections has been conducted in southern and western Libya, despite covetous times and the presence of armed groups, which raises hopes for the national elections.

- What the local elections show is that the green shoots of democracy are in Libya and that they should be nurtured.

Asked how hopeful Stephanie Williams herself is for Libya's future, she says:

- If they stick to the principle that there can be neither winners nor defeated, then I think they have a reasonable chance to build a stable, prosperous country with a government that represents the will of the people.

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