Libyan election spoilers threatened with sanctions

Fears rise that December polls may be delayed or not recognised by competing factions

World powers threatened to sanction those who would obstruct Libya’s coming presidential and parliamentary elections during a Paris summit seeking to ensure the polls go ahead as planned.

A statement issued after the conference, which was also attended by senior Libyan officials, also confirmed the countries' support for the withdrawal of foreign fighters in the country.

“We affirm that individuals or entities, inside or outside of Libya, who might attempt to obstruct, undermine, manipulate or falsify the electoral process and the political transition” could face sanctions, the statement said.

Attendees included French President Emmanuel Macron, Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah El Sisi, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and US Vice President Kamala Harris. Libya’s delegation was led by Mohammed Al Menfi and Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, the interim president and prime minister, respectively.

Mr Dbeibah called for international observers and political support to ensure a fair election.

“We need real guarantees so that the results of the elections are accepted by all and so that those who might refuse the results of the elections be sanctioned,” he said.

Mr Al Menfi and Mr Dbeibah took office this year in a UN-backed peace process that followed an October 2020 ceasefire after 18 months of conflict.

Libya has suffered from near constant turmoil since the 2011 revolution that ousted dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Many of its most important institutions remain divided and it is hoped the elections may pave the way to greater unity.

The presidential and parliamentary polls are both supposed to take place on December 24, according to the UN-supported plan.

But that date is in doubt amid divisions between Libya’s various factions, including disagreements over who can run as well as the constitutional basis governing the elections.

Already the parliamentary elections have been pushed back until early next year, the country's eastern-based Parliament has said.

Mr Draghi said it was important the elections occur, noting that three million Libyans had already registered to vote.

He said Libya's rival factions must agree on a new electoral law as soon as possible for a national vote to be held, as planned, on December 24.

“There needs to be an electoral law, which is fundamental to holding an election,” he said.

“Therefore I hope that this electoral law is drawn up with the agreement of everyone and that everyone gets together, not in the coming weeks, but in the coming days, because it is urgent if you are going to hold elections on December 24.”

There are also concerns over whether the various factions will recognise the results of any vote.

“We stress the importance of an inclusive and consultative electoral process,” the post-summit statement said.

The world powers said they backed an electoral process “starting” on December 24, a change in emphasis from a previous demand for both votes to happen simultaneously on that day.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres also noted the disputes on the legal basis for the election when he addressed the summit virtually.

“Elections are an essential next step on the road to peace and stability. This step has to be built on a strong foundation of inclusive and credible frameworks that can guarantee its success.

“I strongly urge Libyans to come together in a spirit of national unity, to overcome remaining differences and forge a consensus on the legal framework for the elections, in consultation with all relevant national institutions, adhering to their rules and procedures.”

The conflict has involved as many as 20,000 foreign troops pouring into Libya in recent years, including Turkish soldiers, Russian Wagner Group mercenaries and fighters from Syria, Sudan and Chad.

Leaders in Paris backed a plan by senior Libyan military leaders “for the withdrawal of mercenaries, foreign fighters and foreign forces from the Libyan territory”.

But the post-summit statement said that Turkey had introduced “a reservation with regard to the status of foreign forces”.

Ankara has long argued that there is a differences between the many mercenaries who came to Libya and the Turkish soldiers who were invited by the previous Libyan government in a training and advisory role.

Ms Merkel said “there are still some reservations on the Turkish side but the Russia side has acknowledged that it could be done in a reciprocal way”.

Mr Macron said a commitment by eastern forces to remove 300 foreign mercenaries through a process agreed to between senior Libyan military leaders must be followed by Russia and Turkey pulling out fighters.

"Turkey and Russia must also withdraw without delay their mercenaries and military forces, whose presence threatens the stability and security of the country and the entire region," he said.

Deep concerns also remain over the plight of migrants and refugees, many of whom attempt to make the deadly journey from Libya to Europe via the Mediterranean Sea. Often they are held in brutal, squalid detention centres if intercepted at sea.

“Libyan authorities have the responsibility to protect all people in Libya, including migrants and refugees. I am deeply concerned about the dire conditions that refugees and migrants continue to face in detention,” Mr Guterres said.

Updated: November 13th 2021, 12:57 PM