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UN envoy for Libya focused on building institutions to unite country

The Lebanese-born academic Ghassan Salame, center, says that if state institutions can begin to work, Libya would finally change course after years of chaos since the fall of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. (AFP)
UNITED NATIONS: Five months after he was appointed to lead UN peace efforts in Libya, Ghassan Salame says he is focused on building institutions as a way to unite the country.
The 66-year-old Lebanese-born academic said in an interview that if state institutions can begin to work, Libya would finally change course after years of chaos since the fall of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
“The key to my approach is institutions,” Salame said. “If in a year or two, we can begin to reunite, revive and liberate institutions, then the country will be on a different path.”
A UN-mediated political deal in 2015 was supposed to unite Libya, but the country remains divided between a government in Tripoli that enjoys UN support and a rival authority based in Tobruk in the east.
Salame said shoring up Libya’s institutions means stepping away from “the basic competition between individuals, who tell you they represent big tribes until you discover that they represent very little.”
Under Qaddafi’s four decades of authoritarian rule, Libya was devoid of functioning state institutions as the leader “cemented his power by systematically destroying institutions.”
In his action plan, the UN envoy hopes to set a course to elections, by beginning voter registration in December and convening a national conference in February to draw a consensus about elections.
It remains unclear whether Libya will hold presidential, legislative and local elections at the same time and no timetable has been set for the polls.
“I haven’t decided yet,” said Salame. “The country is not ready for any election. For elections to be held, there are technical, political and security conditions that have to be met. None of these are currently there.”
A referendum on a new constitution is also planned, said the former Lebanese culture minister.
Salame insists that elections in Libya must not deepen divisions.
“The thing that leaves me panicked is the idea that we could hold elections that would create a third parliament and the same result for the government,” he said.
“In Libya there must be a recognition that elections are to replace Mister X with Mister Y and not add Mister Y to Mister X,” he said.
On Libya’s many divisions, Salame said there are currently “two governments that are holding on from previous periods” and a third formed from the 2015 political deal.
“I don’t want a fourth government” in Libya, he said.
Elections can be held if the “main actors make a commitment that whoever is elected will replace what currently exists, and will not be added on to what currently exists.”

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