Libya’s election commission said it would not publish a list of presidential candidates until after it settles some legal issues, leaving almost no time to hold the vote as planned on December 24.
“Given the sensitivities of this stage and the political and security circumstances surrounding it, the commission is keen to exhaust all means of litigation to ensure its decisions comply with issued judgements,” the commission said in a statement on Saturday.
While most Libyan and foreign figures involved in the process have continued to publicly call for the election to go ahead on schedule, politicians, analysts and diplomats all have said in private that it would be very hard to achieve.
Significant delays could increase the risk of derailing the wider peace process in Libya, though a disputed election conducted without clear agreement on rules or eligible candidates also would pose immediate dangers to stability.
Less than two weeks before the vote, there would be almost no time remaining for the final list of candidates from the 98 who registered to campaign across Libya, giving a huge advantage to those who are already well known.
Disputes about fundamental rules governing the election have continued throughout the process, including over the voting timetable, the eligibility of major candidates and the eventual powers of the next president and parliament.
According to Anas Gomati, director of the Sadeq Institute, a Tripoli-based think-tank focused on Libyan affairs, “The judicial and political controversy surrounding the eligibility of candidates is the underlying reason international bodies are no longer pushing for December 24.”
“The reality is that this is the top of the iceberg,” Gomati told Al Jazeera.
“The election law passed illegally, the constitutional void to determine the president’s power and security conditions on the ground are not just electoral hurdles, they will derail Libya’s peaceful and democratic transition,” he added.
Without any commonly accepted legal framework, it was not clear how far rules would be based on the UN-backed plan that originally demanded the election or on a law issued by the parliament speaker in September but rejected by other factions.
The process of ruling on the eligibility of candidates has laid bare major vulnerabilities in the process. The commission initially ruled out 25 candidates and set a period of about two weeks for judicial appeals.
The candidature of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of former longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi, and eastern commander Khalifa Haftar has also raised eyebrows, as both of them have been accused of war crimes.
Rival factions have accused each other of intimidating or bribing judicial and administrative officials to sway the final list of candidates.
With armed groups controlling the ground across Libya, any election conducted without strong international monitoring would be open to accusations of fraud.
The electoral commission said it was in communication with the Supreme Judicial Council and with a parliamentary committee and would adopt procedures based on those conversations before moving forward with the electoral process.
Some factions have warned that a delay to the vote could prompt them to pull out of the wider political process.