Libya parliament refuses to fix date for delayed polls to end decade of chaos

Parliamentary committee says setting a new date would be risky at this stage

Libyan activists protest against the postponement of the presidential elections in Martyrs Square, Tripoli, on December 25. The banner reads in Arabic: ‘We want ballot boxes, not ammunition boxes’. AFP

Libya’s parliament on Monday refused to fix a date for presidential elections meant to have taken place last week, leaving question marks over the fate of the poll.

The vote, set for Friday, was meant to be the culmination of UN-led efforts to drag Libya out of a decade of conflict since a 2011 revolt. But it was derailed by bitter arguments over divisive candidates and a disputed legal framework.

On Monday, the parliamentary committee charged with overseeing the election presented a report saying setting a new date would be risky at this stage.

It was a direct rebuff to the High National Elections Commission, which had suggested holding the vote on January 24.

The parliamentary committee is part of an assembly based in eastern Libya since 2014, reflecting the country’s deep divisions.

It recommended laying out “a new, realistic and applicable roadmap, with defined stages, rather than fixing new dates and repeating the same errors”.

The report, read to MPs by committee president Imad Al Sayeh, also suggested setting up a committee to draft a new constitution to replace the one scrapped by dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 1969.

It also called for a reshuffle of the interim government of Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, whose mandate was meant to end with Friday’s elections.

The parliament has yet to debate the proposals.

Mr Dbeibah leads a unity administration based in the capital Tripoli, in the country’s west, which had the role of leading Libya to the elections.

Libyans celebrate the 70th anniversary of their country's independence on the day presidential elections were scheduled to take place. AFP

The vote, after a year of relative calm, was to have been the country’s first direct presidential ballot.

But after months of disputes, the vote postponed two days before it was to take place, when the committee overseeing the election said holding it on the designated date would be impossible.

The electoral commission has yet to announce the final list of presidential candidates. Its work was hobbled by court cases against the bids of several divisive figures.

Eastern strongman Khalifa Haftar, who had waged a year-long military offensive against Tripoli, Qaddafi’s son Saif Al-Islam, a symbol of the old regime also accused of war crimes, and Mr Dbeibah, who had pledged not to run, were all particularly controversial.

In its report, the parliamentary committee said the date of January 24 had been chosen on the basis of “political” considerations, and that an election then “would have the same fate” as that set for Friday.

Shortly before the session on Monday, UN envoy Stephanie Williams urged the parliament “to live up to its national responsibilities” and urgently address recommendations from HNEC “in order to push the electoral process forward”.

In a joint statement on Friday, five western nations had called for a new electoral timeline to be put in place as soon as possible.

The US, France, Britain, Germany and Italy also said the unity government should stay in place until election results are announced.

Libya’s elections postponed — in pictures

Updated: December 28th 2021, 4:33 AM