Libya’s future hangs in the balance at UN-recognised leadership vote

The 75-member forum represents Libya’s main regions, each to be represented on a three-member presidential council.

The warring factions also agreed a national referendum would be held on constitutional arrangements [File: Fethi Belaid/AFP]

Delegates from Libya’s opposing sides have kicked off a five-day meeting to choose an interim prime minister and a three-member presidency council in a crucial bid to reunite the troubled oil-rich country before an election in December.

The Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, which includes envoys from around Libya, met on Monday under UN mediation in an undisclosed site outside Geneva in hopes of stabilizing a country that has been largely lawless since Muammar Gadaffi’s fall and killing in 2011.

The gathering, which will select from an agreed list of candidates, caps a process begun in Berlin in January 2020 for a North African country mired in international meddling and pockets of violence despite a holding ceasefire.

The voting process takes place under the mediation of the UN secretary-general’s acting special representative for Libya, Stephanie Williams. The interim authority to be chosen will seek to rebuild state institutions and lead Libya to a national election on December 24.

The 75 Forum delegates, who span Libya’s fractured political forces, should work for the future of their country and not for their own interests, Williams said.

“This project is not about power-sharing or dividing the cake,” she told the assembled delegates. “They [the Libyan people] need you to succeed, don’t let them down.”

Representatives of the rival factions meet in Geneva [File: Violaine Martin/UN via AFP]

Presidential council

The warring factions also agreed a national referendum would be held on constitutional arrangements, laying the legal groundwork for the December vote.

The 75-member forum represents the three main regions of old Libya, Tripolitania in the west, Cyrenaica in the east, and Fezzan in the southwestern part of Libya  – each to be represented on the presidential council. The prime minister is to be chosen by garnering 70 percent of votes.

Twenty-four candidates are running for the presidential council posts. Those include Aguila Saleh, speaker of the east-based House of Representatives, and Khaled al-Meshri, the head of the Tripoli-based government’s Supreme Council of State.

Among the candidates for the presidential council is Libya’s top judge Mohammed al-Hafi, whose candidacy has stirred up controversy. The country’s Judges’ Association decried the move, saying on Saturday that he should have retired before running.

Twenty-one candidates are running for prime minister, including Fathi Bashaga, the powerful interior minister in the UN-recognised government in Tripoli, and Ahmed Maetig, its deputy prime minister.

On Thursday, Williams told the UN Security Council the gathering amounted to “a decisive round of intra-Libyan talks”.

The same day, the United States called on Russia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates to halt their military interventions in the country, as has been sought under the ceasefire agreement that has largely held in recent months.

The ceasefire deal, inked in October, included the departure of foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya within three months. But so far, no progress has been made on that.

Williams said in December there were at least 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries in Libya, and warned about a “serious crisis” as weapons continue to pour into the North African country.

Since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising, Libya has been split between rival administrations in the east and west – each backed by an array of militias and foreign powers.

Turkey is the main patron of the government in Tripoli, the capital, while Egypt, Russia and UAE back the forces of renegade commander Khalifa Haftar – who runs most of the east and south.