Libya: Theoretical Political Moves

NESA Center Alumni Publication
By Dr. Arslan Chikhaoui
Executive Chairman, Nord-Sud Ventures Consultancy Center

16 November 2020 – According to acting United Nations envoy, Stephanie Williams, Libyan delegates tasked with building a unified executive failed to come to an agreement on future leadership to start to unify the country. This is a sign of the difficulty in pulling the country out of a decade of conflict and building up trust and confidence.

Discussions continued up until the last minute on Sunday, 15 November between the 75 delegates of all stripes gathered for a week for talks in Tunis at the invitation of the UN. Stephanie Williams stated that: “We have agreed to meet in a week for a virtually so that they (the delegates) agree on the selection mechanism for the future authority.”

As noted by Williams, it is obvious that ten years of conflict cannot be sorted in a week’s time. Nevertheless, an agreement was reached on national elections to be organized on 24 December 2021, without specifying whether they were presidential or parliamentary elections or both. “We reached a consensus on three important documents: the roadmap (towards elections), the prerogatives of the executive authorities, and the eligibility criteria”, according to Stephanie Williams.

The delegates were asked to appoint a head of government and the three members of a presidential council forming a unified executive responsible for taking over from rival institutions. Two authorities are now competing for power: one, the Government of National Unity (GNA), which sits in the west in Tripoli recognized by the UN, and two, the militias led by Khalifa Haftar, a strongman from east Libya supported by part of the elected parliament and its president, Aguila Saleh.

It seems that this is a very theoretical move. The UN did not immediately specify what would be the prerogatives of the head of the Presidential Council, to whom it was notably a question of endorsing the portfolio chief of the armed forces. This future unified executive is supposed to govern for only one year and be responsible for organizing the elections and meeting the needs of the Libyan people, exasperated by corruption and failing services while the country holds the largest oil reserves in Africa.

These discussions are taking place in favor of a ceasefire agreed last October, after the failure of the offensive launched in April 2019 by pro-Haftar forces against Tripoli. Economic, military, and political progress has since been made after several rounds of talks, and Stephanie Williams said that she was “optimistic” at the start of negotiations. Negotiations carried out in parallel this week between representatives of the military forces of the GNA and Field Marshal Haftar, which resulted in an agreement providing for “the withdrawal of all mercenaries and foreign fighters” from this area where the front stabilized in the spring.

From my perspective, the political moves announced in the Tunis Forum remain for the time being theoretical. Since 2015, elections have been announced several times without reaching them. The political elite remains largely resistant to elections, and elected officials are calling for a Constitution to be adopted before any election. And we are still far from setting up a new executive.

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