Libya needs new ballot box legitimacy, says Algerian president

Tebboune echoes Tunisian, Egyptian calls for elections in Libya.
Monday 06/07/2020
A file picture of Algerian President Abdelmajid Tebboune. (AFP)
A file picture of Algerian President Abdelmajid Tebboune. (AFP)

TUNIS – Algerian President Abdelmajid Tebboune said on Saturday that Libyan rivals must organise elections through transitional authorities as a political solution to the ongoing conflict.

Tebboune’s statement implicitly reinforces an emerging regional consensus about the expired legitimacy of Tripoli’s Government of National Accord (GNA), a feeling that also seems to be shared by Paris.

Speaking to France 24, Tebboune said that “we need to consult with the Libyan people through its institutions,” including tribal authorities and others, and hold elections.

“The current government is one of these institutions, but things have bypassed it. We need institutions that represent all Libyans. The country also needs to hold elections and elect a president and vice president, putting into consideration a balance between all Libyan regions and the adoption of a new constitution,” Tebboune said.

The Algerian head of state added he was ready to arrange a dialogue between the different Libyan parties should they request it.

He explained that, while talking to German Chancellor Angela Merkel during the Berlin Libyan Conference earlier this year, he promised not to take “any personal initiative.”

Algeria, which has relations with all Libyan parties and contacts them regularly, “stands at the same distance from all Libyan parties,” Tebboune said, adding that Algerians “will not back (one) party against the other.”

“We still have not lost hope” of settling the conflict, he argued.

“We have close visions on Libya with [French] President [Emmanuel] Macron and our Italian friends. Other actors understand that fighting back and forth between armies is not the solution,” he said.

“Who loses today wins tomorrow, and so on, but this is not the solution and it will not offer anything. To take a group of people that includes five from here and five from there is not also a solution.”

Tebboune warned that Libya might fall into the trap of the “Syrian model” and said that he spoke with the French president on this issue.

He noted that, four months ago in Berlin, he said that “we can count on the basis of popular legitimacy to rebuild the state [Libya]” if no ceasefire were to be reached.

He described the “Syrian model” in Libya” as a “danger,” praising the Libyan tribes for “being wise.”

“The same approaches that we saw in Syria are not seen in Libya. Unlike what many people might think, mercenaries and others were those who committed violations. But if the tribes are fed up, they will start arming and protecting themselves,” he warned.

In that case, Tebboune said, Libya’s civil war would be more comparable to Somalia’s than Syria’s.

“No one would be able to do anything at that point in time,” he warned.

“The country could turn into a haven for terrorists, and everyone, seeking to clean their countries, will send their terrorists to Libya,” he added.

Tebboune’s call for Libya to organise elections echoes a similar call by Tunisian President Kais Saied, who said his country will not accept a divided Libya and described the legitimacy of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) as “temporary.”

“The authorities in Tripoli are based on international legitimacy but this international legitimacy cannot continue. It is a temporary legitimacy and in its place must come a new legitimate government, a legitimate government which is born of the will of the Libyan people. And I will say it from this podium, in Paris, that Tunis will not accept the division of Libya,” Saied said two weeks ago while on a first visit to France.

Saied’s oblique reference to the 2015 Skhirat agreement, which had bestowed temporary legitimacy on the GNA, constituted a nuanced shift in Tunisia’s stance on the conflict between the Turkish-backed government of Fayez al-Sarraj and the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA).

Based on the Skhirat agreement, the mandate of the Sarraj government should have expired on December 17, 2017, with a possible extension of only one year.

The Cairo initiative, unveiled by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi last June, also called for UN-supervised presidential council elections and the drafting of a constitutional declaration to regulate elections at a later stage.

The Libya situation is a critical national security issue for both Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt.

Since the overthrow of  longtime Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, instability in the North African country has dominated regional security concerns.

With an expanding power vacuum and the proliferation of weapons, jihadi groups and foreign militants, Libya’s conflict has spelled trouble for next-door Tunisians and Algerians.

The indirect effects of the turmoil in Libya also presented enormous security challenges elsewhere, including the destabilisation of Mali and the Sahel on Algeria’s southern flank.

The Turkey-backed GNA has taken in thousands of Syrian mercenaries to fight against the LNA, led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.