Preconditions for Libya polls are non-existent

Haftar’s political position strengthened by his decision to hand back control of eastern oilfields

Dubai: In May, rival Libyan leaders agreed to a French-brokered deal to hold a nationwide poll by the end of the year, but scepticism remains high as to whether the country is ready for such a vote.

Seven years since Muammar Gaddafi was toppled and killed in a Nato-backed uprising, Libya remains divided, with rival administrations in Tripoli and the east of the country.

Much of the tensions centre around the source of Libya’s wealth — oil. In the end of June, the Libyan National Army (LNA), loyal to eastern strongman Gen. Khalifa Hafter, had taken Libya’s strategic oil region and announced that the Benghazi-based ‘National Oil Corporation’, as opposed to Libya’s recognised, Tripoli-based National Oil Corporation, will administer the production of oil and distribution of oil revenue.

However, earlier this month, Haftar turned over the control of the oil facilities to the Tripoli-based national company. Analysts believe that by handing over control of the oil ports, Haftar and the LNA successfully converted military gains into political credit. “This strengthened the LNA’s political position and rationale behind its control of oil ports and expanded the number of its supporters, while increasing the likelihood of groups, including in western Libya, of holding elements within [the Tripoli-based, internationally recognised] Government of National Accord (GNA) accountable for the deteriorating living conditions,” said Iliasse Sdiqui, an analyst at Whispering Bell, a risk management consultancy.

Sdiqui also said there was a strong possibility of the results of the planned elections being contested. “It is likely tensions will increase as the Paris Summit deadline [December 10, 2018] to hold elections approaches. Despite strong opposition voiced by Italian officials, France is yet to revert its decision and comittment to elections by this date. The fact is, none of the preconditions to hold successful elections, including the organisation, the security environment, the legal and constitutional foundations, and the voter turnout, are currently available in Libya.”

He said even if presidential elections are held, whether or not reconciliation will be possible post-elections remains unclear. “Amid growing resentment towards the GNA and institutions in the West, along with widespread corruption allegations and an emerging federalism architecture in the East, Libya’s future president, if elected, will face major challenges. Elections will not be sufficient to stabilise the security situation, and could upset the delicate status quo.”

The stark East-West divide in Libya has left a security vacuum, raising fears that this could enable groups such as Daesh to carry out further opportunistic attacks, including in the oil crescent and the south. “This could undermine international oil and gas companies’ confidence in the LNA’s ability to secure ports, terminals and pipelines in the oil crescent area,” said Sdiqui.

Rumours also abound that the former dictator’s son, Saif Al Islam Gaddafi, could run in the poll. Saif was released by militias despite having been sentenced to death earlier. He continues to enjoy some support among backers of the old regime. Sdiqui said international criminal cases brought against him could significantly undermine his potential candidacy. “Regardless, there is a local sentiment that any long-lasting reconciliation effort in Libya would need to take into account the former regime’s supporter base.”

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