Eight days before Libyans were supposed to vote in presidential elections, there is complete uncertainty about the outcome of a vote that has not yet been formally postponed but has a slim likelihood of taking place on time.
After years of factional warfare, the planned Dec. 24 vote, combined with a concurrent election for a new parliament, was expected to help end Libya’s decade of upheaval by appointing a political leadership with national legitimacy.
However, heated debates over the election’s legal basis and fundamental procedures, including the eligibility of extremely controversial front-runners, have dogged the process from the outset and have yet to be resolved.
The election commission announced on Saturday that the final list of eligible candidates, taken from the 98 who registered, would not be released until legal consultations with the judges and parliament were completed.
It means candidates will have no time to campaign, and severe security breaches in recent days have raised concerns about election integrity if the poll goes ahead.
On Thursday, few Libyans Reuters spoke to believed the vote would take place on time, but many predicted only a minor delay. “It will be postponed for a maximum of three months,” Ahmed Ali, a 43-year-old Benghazi resident, said.
Rival candidates and political factions have been trading accusations, accusing one another of attempting to sabotage or influence the election process for their personal gain.
International powers pressing for elections, as well as the United Nations, have maintained their position that elections must take place, but have ceased mentioning the planned vote date of December 24 in public pronouncements this week.
In recent weeks, a substantial number of Libyans have collected their ballot papers, and thousands have registered to run for parliament, indicating overwhelming public support for a vote.
For fear of being blamed for the poll’s failure, none of Libya’s political entities were willing to publicly state the vote would not take place, according to Tim Eaton of Chatham House, a London think tank.
“It’s very evident that given the current conditions, the legal wranglings cannot be settled,” he stated. “No one believes this is going to happen on time, but no one is saying anything about it.”
It left an option between short delays to find fixes to push the elections through or longer delays to redraw the political road map, which may involve the replacement of the transitional administration, he noted.
Libya has had no political stability since the NATO-backed rebellion that deposed Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, and the country was split in 2014 between warring eastern and western factions.
Ali Saad, a 66-year-old employee of an oil business, said he cried for Libya’s future. “Even if the elections are postponed, I hope it is with a working agreement and rules, because otherwise things would be tense and the repercussions will be severe.”
For the time being, analysts and diplomats believe that a return to direct fighting between the eastern and western factions, both of which are now well entrenched and have major international military support, is unlikely.
They claim, however, that there is a greater chance of tensions escalating into internal factional fighting within either camp, particularly in Tripoli, where the armed forces are more diversified and political splits are more visible.
An armed group surrounded government facilities in Tripoli on Wednesday night, ostensibly in response to a decision to replace a top military official, but there was no fighting, according to a security source.
Early this week, there were intense battles in the southern city of Sebha between groups connected with competing factions. Fighters attacked voting centres last month, snatching ballot cards, according to the election commission.