The UN's decision evoked criticism with regional experts telling TRT World that Libya will slide into more chaos if Aguila Saleh is allowed to shape the country's future.
The UN recently announced the names of 24 candidates for Libya's three transitional presidential posts, and 21 for the prime ministerial position.
Out of 24 candidates, three will be elected for the presidential council, and one prime minister will be elected out of the 21 candidates. Together, these four elected people will have powers to guide the country to its first election after five years of war and turmoil by the end of December 2021.
With the UN approving Saleh's name among the 24 candidates, experts say there is a potential it could spark violence since he is known for his notoriety and of having done more harm to peace building efforts than good.
“The UN has approved the candidacy of this warmonger who under international law is ultimately responsible for potentially dozens of war crimes and crimes against humanity," pro-democracy Libyan activist Ahmed Sewehli told TRT World.
"These include the crimes of Mahmoud Alwarfalli who is wanted by the ICC for mass executions and is still operating under the command of Saleh. The UN officially approving the candidacy of such a war criminal for President of Libya brings the organisation to disrepute”.
Saleh has sided with warlord Haftar on several occasions, and together they have made attempts to destroy the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), which governs some liberated parts of Libya from its capital city, Tripoli.
Saleh has also come under international criticism for encouraging the Egyptian military-dictator-turned-president Abdel Fattah el Sisi to enter the Libyan conflict and use military force against the GNA if it attempted to liberate the strategic city of Sirte from Haftar's occupation.
Many Libyans are hoping that the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, sponsored by the UN, would pave the way for long lasting peace in the country. But the UN’s decision to approve Saleh's candidacy, according to Sewehli, sends "a terrible message" to Libyans that anyone engaging in "violence" against the people of Libya would be awarded by the UN.
“If you engage in violence and start a war, the UN will officially back you to become a President. Not only that, but Aguila Saleh rejected the terms of the UN brokered Libyan Political Agreement (Skhirat agreement) for 5 years. So how can such a man be part of a new agreement when he has no respect for the UN?"
Ankara based political analyst, Dr Ali Bakeer, told TRT World that if Saleh "messed up" in any UN-approved role, it should bear responsibility for "approving such an arrangement".
"Nothing can be ruled out," Bakeer says of the Libyan conflict, which continues to be chaotic with figures like Saleh involved. He believes the United Nation should at least take a final stand against warlord Haftar.
“It is the UN and international community's responsibility now to make sure that Haftar is treated as a war criminal and not to be a part of any Libyan arrangements in the future,” Bakeer told TRT World.
Bakeer said that at present, the UN projects itself as an arbitrating agency trying to work out "an inclusive solution" for Libya, although some factions continue to pose a threat to "sabotage the whole process if they were sidelined".
“But there are concerns that the UN might end up taking into consideration the interests of some states who banked on Haftar during the previous period but lost the bid. Of course, it is a very risky choice and the whole method is questionable, but it has the potential also to test Augila Saleh and his commitment to a long-lasting solution in Libya,” he added.
However, for pro-democracy activist Ahmed Sewehli, the UN's move to include controversial figures like Saleh in the presidential council exposes the international body's vulnerabilities in the face of the French and Russian pressure.
“Russia and France are working together in Libya, supporting warlord Haftar and Aguila Saleh. They were behind the war on Tripoli. The UN has caved in to Russia and France’s demands that they are able to put forward their preferred dictator,” Sewehli said.
“Let’s not forget that Haftar started his coup d’etat because he said Libyans are not ready for democracy! Yet the UN is allowing Haftar’s Commander-in-Chief, Aguila Saleh, to be involved in the process to implement elections in December this year”.
Sewehli said that Saleh has a reputation of being a dictator in the Tobruk province since he never allowed the grassroot democratisation of the House of Representatives, which he chairs.
“Aguila Saleh was a supporter of Gaddafi. He has never allowed proper elections in the Tobruk House of Representatives, and therefore it's obvious he will not allow fair elections in Libya.”