Delegates from Libya’s opposing sides are attempting to select an interim prime minister and presidency council in a bid to reunite the troubled oil-rich country before an election in December.

Overview of the first day of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum at an undisclosed location, Switzerland, February 1, 2021.
Overview of the first day of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum at an undisclosed location, Switzerland, February 1, 2021. (Reuters)

Libyan delegates at UN-backed talks have held the first round of voting for a three-member presidency council, part of a new transitional executive to govern the war-ravaged North African country until December elections.

The 75 participants at the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum near Geneva — selected by the UN to represent a broad cross section of society — were shown on footage broadcast live on Tuesday by the UN casting their ballots in three boxes, each representing a region.

But with none of the 24 candidates meeting the required threshold of 70 percent of votes, elections moved to a second round.

That is part of a complex process the UN hoped will help shepherd the deeply divided country towards peace and build on a fragile ceasefire to end over a decade of devastating conflict.

The 24 candidates for the three posts gave campaign speeches on Monday via videoconference, with many calling for reconciliation and the withdrawal of the estimated 20,000 foreign forces and mercenaries still on Libyan soil.

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Libyan Political Dialogue Forum

Delegates from Libya’s opposing sides kicked off a five-day meeting on Monday to choose an interim prime minister and a three-person presidency council in a bid to reunite the troubled oil-rich country before an election in December.

The Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, including envoys from around Libya, was meeting under UN mediation in an undisclosed site outside Geneva in hopes of stabilising the North African country that has been largely lawless since Moammar Gadhafi's fall and killing in 2011.

"Reaching this far and achieving this progress in the political dialogue has been an arduous journey fraught with challenges," Williams told the gathering Monday. 

“Indeed, a year ago, this would not have been possible.”

The warring factions also agreed that a national referendum would be held on constitutional arrangements, laying the legal groundwork for the December vote.

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Presidential council candidates

Since Gadhafi’s ouster, Libya has been in turmoil and split between rival administrations in the east and west — each backed by an array of militias and foreign powers.

The 75-member forum represents the three main regions of old Libya: Tripolitania in the west, Cyrenaica in the east, and Fezzan in the southwest — each to be represented on the three-member presidential council. 

Twenty-four candidates were running for the presidential council posts. 

They included Aguila Saleh, speaker of the east-based House of Representatives, and Khaled al-Meshri, the head of the Tripoli-based government’s Supreme Council of State.

Libya’s top judge, Mohammed al-Hafi's candidacy for the presidential council has stirred up controversy. 

The country's Judges’ Association decried the move, saying he should have retired before running.

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Prime minister candidates

Twenty-one candidates are running for prime minister, including Fathi Bashaga, the powerful interior minister in Tripoli, and Ahmed Meitig, deputy prime minister of the UN-supported government.

There are only three women among the 41 candidates: One for the presidential council from the western region and two for the prime minister's post, both from Tripolitania and Fezzan.

Bashaga, a front-runner, said the transitional government should be a national unity one that brings all Libyans together without discrimination.

“We are one kilometer away from a successful ending of a long hectic process. Failure is definitely not an option,” he tweeted Sunday.

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Cease-fire agreements

Last week, the United States called on Russia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates to halt their military interventions in Libya, as has been sought under the cease-fire agreement that has largely held in recent months.

The cease-fire deal, inked in October, included having foreign forces and mercenaries leave Libya within three months but so far no progress has been made on that.

Williams said in December there were at least 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries in Libya, and warned about a “serious crisis” as weapons continue to pour into the country.

Turkey is the main patron of the UN-supported government in Tripoli, the capital, while Egypt, Russia and UAE back the forces of military commander Khalifa Hafter — who runs most of the east and south.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said Libyans are making a “remarkable effort to come together” and said it’s crucial for foreign forces to withdraw.

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Source: AP