Whilst the leaders that attended the Libyan conference in Paris on Friday voiced their support for upcoming elections, there are fears that other political actors could derail them.
Those present reaffirmed their commitment to supporting long-awaited presidential and legislative elections on December 24th.
It”s a vote that many world powers hope will pull the oil-rich North African state out of a decade-long era of conflict and political instability.
In a statement, participants at the Paris conference expressed their support to holding “free, fair, inclusive and credible presidential and parliamentary elections” on Dec. 24.
“We reiterate our commitment to the success of the Libyan political process,” they said and added they “reject all foreign interferences in Libyan affairs.”
Libya’s interim leaders, Mohammad Younes Menfi, head of the presidential council and Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, co-presided over the conference with France, Italy, and Germany.
Dbeibah stressed the importance of putting in place “real guarantees of the acceptance of the results of these elections, and for there to be penalties for those who obstruct or refuse these results.”
But politicians and warlords in western Libya issued statements this week opposing holding the elections according to the laws ratified by the country’s east-based parliament.
Khaled al-Meshri, head of Tripoli-based Supreme Council of State, went further and threatened in televised comments to resort to violence to prevent Khalifa Hifter, a potential frontrunner in the presidential race, from taking office if he is elected.
Libya’s civil war escalated in 2019, as Hifter, who commands the self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces, launched an offensive to take Tripoli from armed militias loosely allied with the then U.N.-supported but weak government in the country’s capital.
The conference’s participants also called for the withdrawal of mercenaries and foreign forces from Libya, as stipulated in last year’s U.N.-brokered cease-fire that ended fighting between the country’s rival factions.
Powerful military commander – and potential presidential candidate – Khalifa Hifter has pledged to initiate the withdrawal of the first batch of foreign fighters from areas they control. The group is expected to include 300 fighters who will return to their home countries under the supervision of the U.N. mission in Libya, the statement said.
“This is only a start, Turkey and Russia must withdraw without delay their mercenaries,” French President Emmanuel Macron said.
Libya has been engulfed in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 that toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. The country was for years split between rival governments – one based in the capital, Tripoli, and the other in the eastern part of the country.
Each side is backed by different foreign powers and militias.
Hifter was backed by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Russia and France. However, his 14-month campaign and march on Tripoli ultimately failed in June 2020, after Qatar and Turkey intensified their military support for the government in Tripoli, with the latter sending mercenaries and troops to help shore up western Libya militias.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a video message said that “Libya today is closer than it has been for many years to solving its internal crisis.”
“We cannot miss this opportunity,” he added, warning that “any party that deliberately undermines or sabotages peace must be held accountable.”
Italy’s Draghi called for an electoral law to be passed urgently to ensure that the election process is fair. “There needs to be an electoral law that … must be passed in the next few days because it’s urgent if you are going to hold elections on Dec. 24th,” he said at a news conference.
On Thursday a leading rights group had questioned whether Libyan authorities are capable of holding free and fair elections. Human Rights Watch criticised what it said were Libya’s restrictive laws that undermine freedom of speech and association, as well as the presence of armed groups accused of intimidating, attacking and detaining journalists and political activists.
“The main questions leaders at the summit should ask are: can Libyan authorities ensure an environment free of coercion, discrimination, and intimidation of voters, candidates, and political parties?” it said in a statement.
The long-awaited vote faces many challenges, including unresolved issues over election laws and occasional infighting among armed groups.
Other obstacles include the deep rift that remains between the country’s east and west and the presence of thousands of foreign fighters and troops.
The U.N. has estimated that there have been at least 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries in Libya over the past few years, including Russians, Syrians, Turkish, Sudanese, and Chadians.
In July, the U.N. special envoy for Libya, Jan Kubis, accused “spoilers” of trying to obstruct the vote to unify the divided nation. The Security Council has warned that any individual or group undermining the electoral process could face U.N. sanctions.