The United Nations’ top official in conflict-scarred Libya has offered to mediate between political rivals in a renewed push for long-delayed elections, warning against “escalation” after a parallel government took office.
Stephanie Williams’ call on Friday came a day after the country’s eastern-based parliament swore in a prime minister in a challenge to interim Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah – a move observers fear could tip Libya into a new schism.
Williams, UN chief Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on Libya, warned in a series of tweets that “the solution to Libya’s crisis does not lie in forming rival administrations and perennial transitions”.
She said she had asked the eastern-based House of Representatives and the High Council of State (HCS), an upper house based in Tripoli, to nominate six delegates each to form a “joint committee dedicated to developing a consensual constitutional basis”.
According to Williams, once the politicians appoint a committee, it would meet on March 15 under UN auspices for two weeks, to work towards a constitutional framework for elections.
Williams also asked Libyans to refrain “from all acts of escalation, intimidation, kidnapping, provocation & violence”.
HCS chief Khalid al-Mishri welcomed her offer, saying the body had already “adopted a constitutional basis last September that could be built upon to find a national consensus”.
“Yes to elections, no to extensions,” he added.
The eastern-based parliament did not issue an immediate public response.
‘Without resorting to violence’
Williams’ proposal comes after presidential and parliamentary elections, set for December 24 as part of a UN-brokered peace process, were abandoned amid bitter disputes over their constitutional and legal footing, as well as the candidacies of several highly contested figures.
That had dashed hopes of drawing a line under a decade of conflict since the 2011 revolt that toppled longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi.
Dbeibah was appointed through the UN-led process in February 2021 on the condition that he shepherd the country until elections that were supposed to take place in December. The vote never took place, triggering the push to replace him with Fathi Bashagha, a former interior minister backed by the eastern parliament.
Dbeibah, based in Tripoli, has refused to cede power except to an elected government. He has proposed a four-point plan to hold a simultaneous parliamentary vote and referendum on constitutional amendments late in June.
The country was split between rival administrations from 2014 to 2021 based in Tripoli in the west and a Tobruk-based parliament in the east.
Meanwhile, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and the United States voiced concern on Friday at the latest developments, including “reports of violence, threats of violence, intimidation and kidnappings”.
“Any disagreement on the future of the political process must be resolved without resorting to violence,” foreign ministers from the five countries said in a joint statement.
Reacting to the statement from Western foreign ministers, Bashagha tweeted that his government’s “mission” was to “organise presidential and parliamentary elections transparently and without delay”.
In his inaugural speech on Thursday, Bashagha had accused Dbeibah and his allies of shutting the country’s airspace and detaining three ministers to prevent them from reaching the assembly to be sworn in.
Libyan media outlets reported on Friday that foreign minister Hafed Gaddur and the minister for technical education Faraj Khalil had been released.
Gaddur appeared on Libya Al-Ahrar news channel saying: “I’m in good health and I wasn’t harmed or mistreated.”
Culture minister Saleha al-Toumi’s whereabouts were still unclear.
Williams had earlier on Friday urged all sides to refrain from “acts of escalation” and pushed politicians to “engage constructively together to move towards elections, for the sake of the 2.8 million Libyans who registered to vote” last year.
She proposed to convene the joint committee on March 15 and to produce a constitutional framework.
Gaddafi had scrapped Libya’s constitution after seizing power in a 1969 coup and ruled for four decades through a mixture of a personality cult, tribal alliances, petrodollar patronage and manipulating the military to avoid further coup attempts.
After he was overthrown and killed in the NATO-backed uprising, Libyan politicians agreed on a “constitutional declaration”.
In 2017, a committee submitted a proposed constitution for parliament to put to a referendum but the vote was never held.