UN Libya envoy urges 'unified government' for election

Abdoulaye Bathily's comments to the UN Security Council appears to be a policy shift

The UN Security Council meeting last week in New York. AP
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UN Libya envoy Abdoulaye Bathily said on Tuesday that “a unified government, agreed upon by the major players, is an imperative for leading the country to elections”.

It was an apparent shift from an earlier position that elections should come first.

Libya's Government of National Unity in Tripoli has not been accepted by the eastern-based parliament since early 2021 after a failed attempt to have national elections.

The dangers of Libya's unresolved conflict were apparent last week when armed factions battled in Tripoli, killing 55 people in the worst fighting there in years.

UN diplomacy in recent years had focused on the urgency of holding national elections despite differences, rather than replacing GNU Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh and forming another interim government to oversee the vote.

“It's a bad day for Dbeibah. The earth is shaking beneath his feet,” said Libya specialist Jalel Harchaoui of the Royal United Services Institution in London.

Mr Bathily has been pushing the parliament, known as the House of Representatives, and the High State Council – a second consultative body with a say over major political issues – to finalise electoral laws.

At the UN Security Council on Tuesday, he said he was exploring the possibility of convening a meeting “of the main stakeholders or their representatives” to resolve major issues.

Libya has had little peace or security since a 2011 Nato-backed uprising and it split in 2014 between warring eastern and western factions.

Although major warfare paused after a 2020 ceasefire, there is little trust between the main factional leaders.

Many Libyans suspect their political leaders have little interest in a lasting settlement or elections that could remove them from positions of authority that they have held for years.

“A negotiation over a new interim government has a chance because there is a carrot for rivals to participate,” said Tim Eaton, Libya researcher at Chatham House.

"But once it is created all incentives for elections disappear. And Bathily has no stick."

Mr Bathily said he was working with the head of the Tripoli-based Presidential Council, Mohammed Al Menfi, to look at bringing the main players to a meeting.

Besides Mr Al Menfi, he named House of Representatives speaker Aguila Saleh, Mr Dbeibeh and eastern commander Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

Updated: August 22, 2023, 9:59 PM