Libya election plans in doubt as violence escalates
Cairo - Clashes between Islamist militias and Libya’s Special Deterrence Force around an airport near Tripoli were far from extraordinary for the Libyan capital, which has been a battlefield as has much of the rest of the country.
Nonetheless, the timing of the January 15 fighting that left 20 people dead and caused damage to five aeroplanes may set the tone as Libya prepares for elections this year, commentators said.
“Some political forces have an interest in putting hindrances on the road to the elections, knowing that they may emerge as total losers,” said Libyan political analyst Mohamed Fouad. “These forces include the Islamists who have lost most of their popularity in the past few years.”
The internationally backed Government of National Accord said fighting erupted when the Libya Dawn militia sought the release of detainees affiliated with the Islamic State (ISIS) and al-Qaeda. Many fear the fighting could lead to some Libyan militias consolidating gains on the ground before elections, which are required to take place before September 30. Others could attempt to increase violence to prevent the elections.
“These political forces are getting their cues from some regional powers that want the situation in Libya to remain as is,” said Libyan political analyst Abdel Baset bin Hamel. “These regional powers have been standing behind rampant violence in Libya and are not at ease as the country tries to depart from its turbulent past.”
Libyan National Army (LNA) spokesman Ahmed al-Mesmari accused Turkey of interfering in Libyan affairs and backing terrorist groups. The LNA controls most areas of eastern Libya.
Mesmari was referring to the January 10 seizure by the Greek Coast Guard of a ship en route to Libya. The ship, which departed from Turkey, contained hundreds of tonnes of explosives, which Mesmari said would have been distributed all over Libya and exacerbated conflict in the country.
Mesmari also said Qatar and Sudan were supporting terrorist groups in Libya.
Libya’s election commission said nearly 2 million Libyans have registered to vote, with 500,000 signing up since September.
Libya’s political parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction Party, are drawing up platforms to appeal to voters.
The possible political comeback of Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, a son of former dictator Muammar Qaddafi who was reportedly released from prison last June, increased speculation about who might lead Libya. Some observers said they expect the commander of the Libyan National Army, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, to relinquish his military uniform and run in presidential elections.
Haftar, who expressed hopes on January 10 that the elections would end the rampant violence in Libya, has tried to project himself as a powerful military leader capable of fighting extremism and uniting a fragmented Libya. Haftar’s strong position against Libya’s Islamists, however, likely makes him less capable of being considered politically inclusive, critics said.
The need for consensus on a new constitution and on election laws is among other challenges facing a country where having free and fair elections is complicated by the fact that a significant amount of territory is under control of armed militias. Even if successful elections can be carried out, questions remain as to whether Libya’s political parties will accept the results.
“To do this, political forces need to have a great deal of self-denial for the sake of their own country,” said Libyan political analyst Snoussi Ismail. “The problem is that there is little chance for this to happen while some forces believe that the elections will not be good for them.”