Saif al Islam Gaddafi has submitted his papers to contest elections, but many see that as the slippery slope towards autocracy.
For decades, his father ruled Libya as a dictator, and he himself is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the suppression of opposition protests in 2011.
But none of that is stopping Saif al Islam Gaddafi from trying to become Libya's next president.
Gaddafi is one of the most prominent and controversial figures who submitted his candidacy to run for president. He was captured by a militia following the aftermath of Muammar Gaddafi's brutal end. Saif was held for six years, and given a death sentence that was later overturned.
Later, reports said he was granted amnesty in the east of the country, under the rival Libyan government.
The announcement from Saif to run for presidency for this December’s elections sparked protests in western Libya.
Many opponents of his candidacy broke into the offices of the Higher Election Commission which were then forced to close in Zawiya, Al Khums and Zliten. The Misrata branch of the Election Commission was also hit by a protest against Gaddafi’s nomination.
In a statement, the Municipality Council of Misrata refused the upcoming elections in its current ‘shameful form’ accusing the elections commission of a ‘conspiracy (aimed) at the Libyan people’ - requesting an apology.
“Gaddafi’s candidacy means we’re obviously struggling to determine what democracy means for us in the absence of the rule of law. Given that Libya is run by militias, it will be very hard to guarantee free and fair elections,” a Libyan policy and communications specialist Rehab Alhag told TRT World.
Alhag says that Libya is going to have an economic crisis soon and its economy is “100 percent reliant” on fossil fuels.
“If our new president doesn’t make the economy our priority, along with security, we will fall into poverty within 20 years.”
Many Libyans condemned the acceptance of Gaddafi’s submission calling for elections to be agreed on a constitutional basis. But Khaled Aljazwi, an election law specialist from Tripoli, tells TRT World, “At this stage, anyone can submit for presidential candidacy. Gaddafi can submit for presidency as long as he has court’s pardon over alleged crimes 10 years ago.”
Aljazwi adds that there are around 100 presidential nominations so far and it will distract the voting and there will likely be a second round of voting. It’s important to make the distinction that the acceptance of a nomination submission does not mean that a nomination is accepted - the commission will review it first.
“And there is the right of appeal at court against any of the candidates, then the court takes its final decision. This all should happen within days and elections can still happen on time.”
Disagreements, opposition and...delays?
In the first reaction from a politician, Prime Minister of the interim government in Tripoli, Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, described the election laws as defective and tailored to suit specific personalities.
Regarding his own nomination, Dbeibeh said he will announce his position at a suitable time and it is all in the hands of the Libyan people.
Disagreements between Libya's political bodies and opposing factions about the election rules and the schedule have threatened to derail the presidential vote.
William Lawrence, political science professor at American University, expects free and fair elections in December.
“What is remarkable about Libya’s peace process — despite the presence of polarised proxy militias — the international community and almost everyone involved is supporting the election process,” Lawrence told TRT World.
According to The New York Times report on Saif al Islam Gaddafi, some of his Western friends spoke of him as Libya’s potential saviour as he spoke the language of democracy and human rights.
Saif believes that his Green Movement can restore the country’s lost unity, and it is time for a return to the past.
“There’s no money, no security. There’s no life here. Go to the gas station — there’s no diesel. We export oil and gas to Italy and we have blackouts here. It’s more than a failure. It’s a fiasco.”
Libya is still effectively divided in two, with its eastern half largely controlled by the warlord Khalifa Haftar.
Western leaders do not have “even a millimetre of trust” in Haftar, president of Libya’s High Council of State, Khalid Mishri told The New York Times.
According to the same report, a victory for Saif would be a symbolic triumph for Arab autocrats, who share his loathing of the Arab Spring. It would also be welcomed at the Kremlin, which has bolstered strongmen across the Middle East and remains an important military player in Libya, with its own soldiers and about 2,000 mercenaries still on the ground.
It is hard to know how much influence they might have on an election. For the United States — which led the NATO campaign that helped oust Saif’s father — the revival of the Gaddafi dynasty would be an embarrassment to say the least.