Hundreds take to the streets in Libya in protest against cancellation of elections

Election commission has proposed a new date of January 24 but rival factions have yet to agree to this

Libyans demonstrate against the postponement of the presidential election in the city of Benghazi. AFP

Hundreds took to the streets in several Libyan cities to protest against the cancellation of Friday’s long-awaited presidential election.

Several parliamentary candidates and political groups had called for the protests, which underline risks to fragile stability in the oil-rich nation that’s a haven for militias and still riven by an east-west divide.

Libya’s election commission has proposed January 24 as a new date for the presidential poll, followed by parliamentary elections on February 15.

But no dates have been officially set or agreed upon by the country’s rival factions.

At a Benghazi rally, protesters raised banners reading “yes for elections, no for postponement.”

“All of Libya must have elections on time. We reject any postponement or manipulation of the Libyan will,” Mohamed Alorfy, an activist, told the crowd.

Earlier, many parliamentary hopefuls circulated a poster calling for rallies on what they called “Salvation Friday.”

The poster called for the election to be rescheduled for January 24.

“Do not be passive. Take to the streets and express your opinion. Force them to respect your will,” AlSalhen Al Nihoom, a parliamentary candidate from the eastern city of Benghazi, wrote on his Facebook page.

Protesters have also rallied in other cities and towns of eastern Libya, including Tobruk and Derna.

Small groups also took to the streets in the western city of Misurata, the southern village of Gatroun and the town of Hun in central Libya.

Earlier this week, some 50 parliamentary hopefuls condemned the cancellation of the vote, insisting in a joint statement that the commission should set a new date.

The statement called on Libyans to take to the streets to defend their “right to a safe, stable and sovereign” country.

For nearly a year, the planned election was the linchpin of international efforts to bring peace to Libya.

But with several well-known figures – including the son of ousted dictator Muammar Qaddafi – declaring their candidacy despite bans, the election commission never published a list of accepted candidates.

Many observers had warned that either scenario – holding the vote on time or postponing it – would be destabilising.

The US, UK, France, Germany and Italy on Friday jointly called on Libyan authorities to swiftly determine an election date and issue the final list of presidential candidates.

“We recall that free, fair and credible elections will allow the Libyan people to elect a representative and unified government, and reinforce the independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity of Libya,” the western countries said.

They also warned that local or foreign individuals or entities who obstruct or undermine the electoral process in Libya might face UN sanctions.

On Thursday, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that elections should be held “in the appropriate conditions”.

The top UN diplomat vowed that his organisation will continue to support Libyan efforts to overcome challenges and hold both presidential and parliamentary elections as soon as possible.

Libya plunged into turmoil after the 2011 uprising that culminated in the overthrow and killing of Qaddafi.

Eventually, the country split between rival governments – one in the east, backed by military commander Khalifa Hafter, and another UN-supported administration in the capital of Tripoli, in the west.

Mediated by the UN, an October 2020 ceasefire led to the formation of a transitional government with elections scheduled for December 24, 2021.

But with that vote cancelled, the fate of that government is now unclear. The parliamentary committee said the government’s mandate ended on Friday.

The poll cancellation coincided with the 70th anniversary of the independence of Libya.

In Tripoli, the mood was festive but more subdued than previous years, with folk music and people waving flags in Martyrs’ Square.

Updated: December 25th 2021, 9:09 AM