Libyan delegates start talks to pick transitional leaders

Bashagha, a frontrunner, said the transitional government should be a national unity one. “We are one kilometre away from a successful ending of a long hectic process. Failure is definitely not an option,” he tweeted Sunday.
Monday 01/02/2021
Libyan delegates stand during the national anthem at the opening of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum on February 1, 2021 at an undisclosed location near Geneva to choose a new temporary executive authorities. (AFP)
Libyan delegates stand during the national anthem at the opening of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum on February 1, 2021 at an undisclosed location near Geneva to choose a new temporary executive authorities. (AFP)

GENEVA - Delegates from Libya’s opposing sides kicked off a five-day meeting on Monday to choose an interim prime minister and a three-person presidency council in a bid to reunite the troubled oil-rich country before an election in December.

The Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, including envoys from around Libya, was meeting under UN mediation in an undisclosed site outside Geneva in hopes of stabilising the North African country that has been largely lawless since Muammar Gadhafi’s fall and killing in 2011 after a NATO-backed uprising.

The voting process is taking place under the mediation of the UN secretary-general’s acting special representative for Libya, Stephanie Williams. The interim authority to be chosen will seek to rebuild state institutions and lead Libya to a national election on December 24. A list of possible candidates has already been agreed upon.

“Reaching this far and achieving this progress in the political dialogue has been an arduous journey fraught with challenges,” Williams told the gathering Monday. “Indeed, a year ago, this would not have been possible.”

“This decision was greeted with the overwhelming approval by your compatriots, and it is a commitment that must be honoured at all costs,” she added.

“The Libyan people are behind you. They support you and they want you to succeed. They need you to succeed. Don’t let them down.”

— Three regions —

The warring factions also agreed that a national referendum would be held on constitutional arrangements, laying the legal groundwork for the December vote.

Since Gadhafi’s ouster, Libya has been in turmoil and split between rival administrations in the east and west — each backed by an array of militias and foreign powers.

The 75-member forum represents the three main regions of old Libya: Tripolitania in the west, Cyrenaica in the east and Fezzan in the south-west — each to be represented on the three-member presidential council. The prime minister is to be chosen by the candidate winning 70% of votes.

Acting UN envoy for Libya Stephanie Williams delivers remarks at the opening of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum on February in Geneva. (AFP)
Acting UN envoy for Libya Stephanie Williams delivers remarks at the opening of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum on February in Geneva. (AFP)

Twenty-four candidates are running for the presidential council posts. Those include Aguila Saleh, speaker of the east-based House of Representatives, Khaled al-Meshri, the head of the Tripoli-based government’s Supreme Council of State.

Libya’s top judge Mohammed al-Hafi’s candidacy for the presidential council has stirred up controversy. The country’s Judges’ Association decried the move, saying he should have retired before running,

Twenty-one candidates are running for prime minister, including Fathi Bashaga, the powerful interior minister in Tripoli, and Ahmed Meitig, deputy prime minister of the UN-supported government.

Bashagha, a frontrunner, said the transitional government should be a national unity one that brings all Libyans together without discrimination.

“We are one kilometre away from a successful ending of a long hectic process. Failure is definitely not an option,” he tweeted Sunday.

Given the sheer number of candidates and the high bar needed to declare a winner, the UN mission is likely to resort to lists formed from Libya’s three regions, with each list consisting of four names, nominated for the presidential council and a prime minister position.

This is likely to lead to candidates working together to form a most-likely-to-win list, said Jalel Harchaoui, a research fellow specialising in Libyan affairs at the Clingendael Netherlands Institute of International Relations. He said foreign countries, like Russia and Turkey, are likely exerting their sway on the choices too.

“In fact, we don’t even know whether a cabinet can be formed at all, even assuming the four positions are filled thanks to the UN process. The Defence Ministry, for instance, will be one very tricky post, obviously, as Turkey is hell-bent on controlling it,” he said.

— The hurdle of mercenaries —

Last week, the United States called on Russia and Turkey to halt their military interventions in Libya, as has been sought under the ceasefire agreement that has largely held in recent months.

The ceasefire deal, inked in October, included having foreign forces and mercenaries leave Libya within three months but so far no progress has been made on that.

Williams said in December there were at least 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries in Libya, and warned about a “serious crisis” as weapons continue to pour into the country.

Turkey is the main patron of the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, the capital, while Egypt, Russia and UAE back the forces of Libyan National Army (LNA) commander Khalifa Haftar — who runs most of the east and south.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said Libyans are making a “remarkable effort to come together” and said it’s crucial for foreign forces to withdraw.

His comments came in a report to the Security Council in which he demanded that all foreign troops and mercenaries involved in the Libya conflict leave the country by January 23.

But foreign forces — 20,000 troops and mercenaries by UN estimates — have ignored the deadline to pull out of Libya.

Satellite images broadcast by CNN showed a trench running tens of kilometres (miles) dug by “Russian mercenaries” near the frontline coastal city of Sirte, as foreign protagonists Ankara and Moscow appear intent on defending their interests under any final settlement.

An unidentified US intelligence official quoted by the American news network said there was “no intent or movement by either Turkish or Russian forces to abide by the UN-brokered agreement.”