Many in Libya demanded delaying the elections, but now the question is whether Haftar and his allies will use the opportunity to legitimise themselves.
The long-awaited presidential elections in Libya have been postponed for at least a month, initially scheduled for December 24.
Libya’s High National Elections Commission (HNEC) on Wednesday announced the decision while mentioning the lack of necessary electoral legislation regarding the judiciary’s role in appeals, interference in politics, and judicial rulings leading to an inability to publish the final list of presidential candidates.
Amid rising tensions surrounding the candidacies of the likes of Saif al Islam Gaddafi and the warlord Khalifa Haftar, the overwhelming majority in Libya were demanding a delay to develop a mutually agreed constitutional basis, and legitimate bipartisan electoral laws for free and fair elections.
A few days ahead of elections saw the massive military mobilisation of Haftar’s forces around Sabha, an oasis city in southwestern Libya, and around the capital, Tripoli.
Presidential candidates Fathi Bashagha who was interior minister in the previous UN Government of National Accord in Libya, and Ahmed Maiteg, who was a member of the previous presidential council, recently met Khalifa Haftar along with other candidates in the warlord’s stronghold, Benghazi.
According to Jalel Harchaoui, a senior fellow at Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime and a Libya expert, Bashagha's meeting with Haftar was a cynical ploy to stay politically relevant.
“He praises Haftar because Haftar exists,” Harchaoui tells TRT World.
Is Haftar making an alliance of enemies?
“The enemies of Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah tend to look for a deal with Haftar. He cannot do what he did in 2019 against Tripoli as Turkiye is there. So that makes him more approachable and palatable in the eyes of Bashagha and Maiteg,” says Harchaoui.
On the other hand, Abdulkader Assad, the chief editor of The Libya Observer and Libya Al Ahrar English, tells TRT World that “Haftar and his allies will bring back the legitimacy card and say the Government of National Unity is no longer in position to rule Libya beyond December 24.”
“To do this, Haftar is now working on the support of not only the House of Representatives (HoR) Speaker Aguila Saleh but also on west-based political parties that oppose Abdulhamid Dbeibah, such as Fathi Bashagha and Ahmed Maiteg. Haftar is also relying on the hate for Saif al Islam Gaddafi's card, which is bringing a lot of Haftar's enemies to his side in what they believe would help push Saif out of the race, and to some extent push Dbeibah out as well.”
Commenting on the UN’s potential role in Libya’s future, Jalel Harchaoui says Stephanie Williams, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres’ special adviser on Libya, “will have to choose what will happen next.”
“She will probably insist on the importance of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) and she views it as a legislative body. So, in her logic, whatever needs to be done from a legislative perspective should take place in Geneva and ratify, only ratified by the parliament. Even if doesn't get ratified, she will stick with whatever the LPDF is supposed to produce.”
Harchaoui adds that Williams thinks former UN Special Envoy to Libya, Jan Kubis, was not able to extract anything from the LPDF, but she will be able to.
“She basically wants to come up with a roadmap. She doesn't want to go with the roadmap HoR is proposing. She probably wants legislative elections to take place before the presidential elections which means that if the parliament is put together based on a new vote then Dbeibah will be out because he is not a president but prime minister. So, this means she will probably tolerate Dbeibah for another few months.”
According to Assad, the reason behind Bashagha and Maiteg meeting were about obeying Haftar “because both of them are connected to the same circle of agenda this time, especially to the UAE-France-Egypt vision”.
“This vision wants any alliance other than that of Dbeibah, US-backed, to be victorious. Russia, on the other hand, keeps interest in Haftar and Aguila Saleh, but is also pushing for Saif al Islam Gaddafi to return to the scene in Libya.”
Jalel Harchaoui thinks the country is at risk of partition.
“If Bashagha, Maiteg, Haftar, and Aguila Saleh get together and declare a new government in the east, the new government might appear. Dbeibah will stay in Tripoli and no mechanism realistically can remove Dbeibah from Tripoli as Turkiye is there. If you start playing with those things, it doesn't look like a partition initially but it is, in fact, a step towards de facto partition,” he added.
According to Abdulkader Assad, “Since September, the HoR has been calling for the resignation of Dbeibah’s government and threatening to establish a new one.”
“This shows that the HoR would probably jump on the opportunity and make the utmost use of it, saying that the GNU failed to take Libya to elections and since it has already withdrawn confidence from it, the HoR could easily put confidence in a new one: Bashagha as Prime Minister, Haftar as Chief of Staff and Defence Minister, and Maiteg as Foreign Minister; as rumors say,” Assad adds.
Assad says “Haftar has never been a believer in democracy” and that he only joined the election race out of necessity as his backers in France, UAE, and Egypt were obliged to commit to international agreements.