NEW YORK: Efforts by the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) to elect a three-member Presidency Council will move to the next stage after none of the candidates secured the required 70 percent of the vote during a meeting in Geneva on Tuesday.
The forum, which was established late last year to advance the political peace process, is made up of 75 women and men from across the country who are described by the UN as reflecting the full social and political spectrum of Libyan society.
During talks in Tunisia in November, the LPDF agreed a plan to elect an interim executive authority that includes a prime minister and a three-member Presidency Council with one representative from each of Libya’s eastern, western and southern regions.
They will be tasked with guiding the country toward the “sacred goal” of holding constitutionally based national elections, said Stephanie Williams, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s acting representative for Libya, who convened this week’s meeting in Switzerland.
“This project is not about power sharing or dividing the cake,” said Williams. “Rather, it is to form a temporary government composed of patriots who agree to shoulder and share the responsibility to put Libyan sovereignty — and the security, prosperity and welfare of the Libyan people — above narrow interests and far from the specter of foreign interference.”
It would be the first such unified government in the country since the 2011 revolution that overthrew the Qaddafi regime.
The top three contenders that emerged on Tuesday were: Abdul Majeed Ghaith Seif Al-Nasr, who received 42.9 of all votes for southern candidates; Aguila Saleh, head of the parliament in eastern Libya, who received 39.1 percent of the votes for candidates from that region; and Khaled Mishri, leader of the High State Council, who received 22.2 percent of votes for candidates from the west of the country.
All fell far short of the required 70 percent of support, so the next round of voting will be based on a list system. Many observers expect the three top candidates on Tuesday will ultimately be the winners.
In all there are 24 candidates, who previously delivered 30 minute presentations to forum delegates, followed by 10 minutes of questions.
Also on Tuesday, 21 candidates for prime minister presented their credentials and visions for the future, after which they faced 20 minutes of questions. Delegates have until Friday to choose their preferred candidate for prime minister.
Almost all of the hopefuls listed the holding of elections as top priority, and vowed to reunify the nation’s institutions. As one of them put it: “One budget, one state, one army.”
Other popular pledges included a return to pre-civil war levels of oil production, the strengthening of the Libyan currency, the provision of security measures to ensure a safe election, prominent roles for women and young people in the new government, efforts to crack down on corruption, checks and balances to ensure no one is above the law and, crucially, an end to foreign interference in Libyan affairs.
Southern candidate Mona Jarrari said she decided to run so that Libyans “can get accustomed to a woman candidate.” She urged her fellow candidates to steer clear of slogans and to be realistic in setting their goals, the implementation of which, she added, will be impossible without an executive authority.
“Elections are our salvation,” said Jarrari, who also presented a plan to combat COVID-19 as another top priority.
“It is a positive sign that this process – your process – has inspired a high degree of buy-in and enthusiasm,” Williams told the participants. “While the selection of the interim unified executive is not an election in the traditional sense, open competition is good for democracy. This is the kind of competition that can only take place when the guns are silent.”
Hafed Al-Ghwell, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute at Johns Hopkins University followed Tuesday’s events with a feeling of deja-vu.
Ghassan Salame, the UN’s former envoy to Libya who resigned last year as a result of stress, had submitted the proposal for a similar gathering, and the group meeting now in Geneva was set to meet in April 2019.
“The plan would have worked,” said Al-Ghwell. “And it would have been much less controversial (at that time).”
However 10 days before the forum was due to gather, the Libyan National Army launched an assault on Tripoli, where the Government of National Accord is based.
“So now, to go back to the same process without taking into account the serious changes that happened on the ground — including 12 months of constant bombardment of the capital, thousands of dead, hundreds of thousands of displaced people — even if you come up with the right (executive authority), a lot of people on the ground who have lost their loved ones are not going to accept it,” said Al-Ghwell.
While conceding that “a meeting is better than killing each other,” he also questioned the selection process in Geneva. Especially problematic for him is the background of some of the candidates. He singled out Aguila Saleh in particular, who backed the attack on the capital.
“If he’s in the Presidential Council, what will stop him from making decisions that exclude everybody else? Or opening the door to foreign intervention like he did when he was the speaker of the parliament?” said Al-Ghwell.
“The UN says there are more than 250,000 displaced people in Tripoli. How are these people going to accept the legitimacy of a council if it has somebody like Aguila Saleh, who supported the war on the capital?”
In a country that has still to re-establish its institutions, the personality and credibility of a candidate is of paramount importance, Al-Ghwell said.
He also questioned the choices of the 75 members of the forum, some of whom have never lived in Libya, but added that what the UN has achieved with the implementation of the LPDF is very important nonetheless.
“Stephanie Williams and UNSMIL (the UN Support Mission in Libya) found that there’s a parliament and a state that have been major obstacles to implementing UN resolutions in Libya and the unification of its institutions,” said Al-Ghwell.
“Therefore Williams create a third body, the 75-member LPDF. This group is not going anywhere in the near future. If the parliament does not approve the (interim) government within 21 days, the matter will go back to the 75 to decide. So she created this UN-chosen, third body (and added it) into the Libyan mix.”