After calling for elections in Libya ahead of government unification for years, the United Nations now says unification should come before voting.
Its Libya envoy, Abdoulaye Bathily, said on Tuesday that it is imperative stakeholders agree on a unified government that could then lead Libya into elections.
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Libya has had little peace or security since the 2011 NATO-backed removal of former strongman Muammar Gaddafi, and it split in 2014 between warring eastern and western factions.
Torn apart between east and west
East-based renegade commander Khalifa Haftar launched an attack on Tripoli and the government based in western Libya in 2020. The House of Representatives in the eastern city of Tobruk backed him.
After the assault was repelled, businessman-turned-politician Abdulhamid Dbeibah was chosen as interim prime minister to head the internationally recognised Government of National Unity (GNU) and lead the country to elections the following year.
Among his promises to the 75 Libyan delegates the UN had chosen to elect him was that he would not seek election himself.
In 2021, Libya waited for national elections that never happened, and Dbeibah refused to step down, insisting he would remain in his post until a successful election was held.
The House of Representatives in Tobruk remained separate and accused the GNU in Tripoli of failing to unify and serve the country. The standoff has continued since.
Libya’s unresolved conflict continues to endanger its people, as it did last week when armed factions battled in Tripoli, killing 55 people.
Many Libyans suspect their political leaders have little interest in a lasting settlement or elections that could remove them from positions of authority that they have held for years.
Until recently, the UN’s diplomacy has focused on national elections rather than replacing Dbeibah and forming another interim government to oversee the vote.
But in an apparent about-face, Bathily told the UN Security Council on Tuesday that he was working with the head of the Tripoli-based Presidential Council, Mohammed al-Menfi, to look at bringing the leading players to a meeting to resolve major issues. He also said he was talking with Dbeibah, Haftar and Tobruk House Speaker Aguila Saleh.
“A negotiation over a new interim government has a chance because there is a carrot for rivals to participate, but once it is created, all incentives for elections disappear and Bathily has no stick,” Tim Eaton, Libya researcher at Chatham House, told the Reuters news agency.