Libya’s presidential candidates Ahmed Maiteeq and Fathi Bashagha arrive for a meeting with Libya’s eastern military chief Khalifa Haftar, in the eastern city of Benghazi.
A parliamentary committee tasked to oversee Libya’s electoral process says it has become “impossible” to hold the country’s long-waited presidential election in two days, as scheduled – a widely expected announcement amid pressing challenges and calls for a postponement.
“After consulting the technical, judicial and security reports, we inform you of the impossibility of holding the elections on the date of December 24, 2021, provided for by the electoral law,” the chairman of the committee wrote on Wednesday to the head of parliament, without giving a new date.
The letter came after the head of Libya’s High National Electoral Commission, in a document dated December 2020, ordered the dissolution of the electoral committees nationwide, without naming a final list of candidates, in a move that effectively postponed the first round of presidential polls due to take place on Friday.
The delay after months of arduous preparations and international negotiations is a big blow to efforts to end 10 years of chaos in the country in the wake of a 2011 revolt that removed longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi.
The election is part of a United Nations-backed plan aimed at restoring stability but without any clear agreement on rules, and with bitter disputes over the eligibility of the main candidates, the process has stalled and cannot go ahead.
On Tuesday, the UN’s mission in the country voiced concern about the security situation in Tripoli, after rival armed groups deployed in the south of the capital, closing roads using sandbags. Images posted online in the morning showed a tank and pick-up trucks mounted with machine guns in the Fornaj district.
“The current mobilization of forces affiliated with different groups creates tensions and increases the risk of clashes that could spiral into conflict,” the mission, known as UNSMIL said in a statement, adding that all disagreements regarding political matters should be resolved through dialogue.
Meanwhile, schools and the University of Tripoli closed yesterday as a precaution but there were no gun battles, residents said. In the afternoon, roads in Tripoli that had been closed were reopened and fewer gunmen were seen on the streets, according to reports.
Armed groups had also deployed in Tripoli’s streets last week after the unity government dismissed Abdulbasit Marwan, a senior military official backed by several of the capital’s powerful armed groups.
Meanwhile early on Tuesday, two leading presidential candidates from western Libya, ex-Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha and former Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Maiteeq, met Khalifa Haftar in Benghazi. Haftar is an eastern-based renegade military commander who is also seeking the presidency.
The content of their talks was not disclosed, but an adviser to Bashagha told newsmen the reason for the visit was to “break down obstacles … and show that it is possible to unite”.
The meeting is the most prominent of several rounds of backroom talks over recent days between candidates, factions and foreign powers about delaying the vote and whether an interim government can meanwhile continue in power.
Those participating in the group meeting in Benghazi are aligned against the interim Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, who is another rival candidate.
Dbeibah had promised when he was appointed not to run for office. His opponents say he should not run in the election because he has been able to use state spending to attract votes.
Haftar’s candidacy is controversial in western areas after his 14-month assault on Tripoli from 2019-20, which destroyed much of the city. Another prominent candidate, Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, is also unacceptable to many Libyans.