Preparations are almost done for polls in war-torn Libya, the head of the electoral commission says, despite wrangling over voting laws and warnings the outcome could be contested.
“We are 80 or 90 percent ready” for the presidential and parliamentary votes in December and January, Imed al-Sayeh, head of the country’s High National Election Commission (HNEC), said in an interview with the AFP news agency.
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“I think there will be very strong turnout for these elections, especially as there will be direct presidential polls for the first time since Libya’s independence [in 1951],” he said at his office in Tripoli.
The polls are part of a United Nations-backed peace process that has seen a year of relative peace following a ceasefire between eastern and western camps in the North African country.
But disputes over the legal and constitutional basis of the ballots and who is eligible to stand raised doubts over the process.
Analysts warned of a return to conflict if the outcome is contested.
The presidential and parliamentary votes were initially set for the same day – December 24 – but on Tuesday parliament announced that the legislative elections, the country’s first since 2014, would be postponed until January.
The HNEC said in August that more than 2.8 million Libyans had registered for the polls out of a population of about seven million.
Libya has been ripped apart by violence since the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, who had ruled the vast, oil-rich country with an iron fist since seizing power in a 1969 coup.
Last October’s ceasefire between rival eastern and western governments, after UN-hosted talks, led to a transitional government taking office in March to usher the country towards elections at the end of this year.
The eastern-based parliament in Tobruk this week finally adopted a law on legislative polls, but it was rejected the following day by the western-based upper chamber, the High Council of State, in Tripoli.
The controversy came weeks after the parliament passed a bill on presidential polls that critics say bypassed due process and was tailor-made to favour a bid by eastern strongman renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar.
Speaking on Tuesday, Sayeh said the HNEC had yet to receive the law on legislative polls.
After it does, “measures must be taken to move on with the next stage, registering candidacies”, he said.
But with 11 weeks to go, hopefuls have yet to declare their candidacy and campaigning has not officially begun.
Haftar, who led a yearlong but ultimately unsuccessful armed campaign to seize the capital, is expected to stand in the presidential poll and has temporarily given up his military role as required by the new law.
He is not the only controversial figure expected to launch a presidential bid.
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of Muammar, gave a rare interview to The New York Times in July in which he suggested he too may run.
Sayeh said, “Everyone has the right to take part in this process, and every Libyan with an identity number can stand for election in the presidential vote.”
He admitted that logistical problems remain but insisted that they could be overcome.
“The most important thing is that all political actors agree on how the elections are run and that their results are accepted,” he said.
But analysts have warned that a contested outcome could yet threaten the collapse of Libya’s fragile peace.
“On the day of the polls, the big question will be whether or not … the integrity of the vote will be questioned,” said Anas el-Gomati, director of the Sadeq Institute, a Libya-based think-tank.