Senior Libyan politician Guma el Gamaty told TRT World that the international community has turned a blind eye to 'flawed' election laws that allow warlord Khalifa Haftar to compete for Libya's presidency.
Libyans felt hopeful about their future for the first time in the last six years of war as stakeholders formed a transitional government in early 2021 under the UN's watch.
But figures like warlord Khalifa Haftar complicated the transition by eyeing the Libyan presidency. At the same time, the international community turned a blind eye to his alleged war crimes and allowed him to linger on in the country.
Khalid al Mishri, the head of Libyan High Council of State, called for the election boycott, citing the "flawed" election laws drafted by the High National Elections Commission. Mishri believes that the laws have been designed to give Haftar access to the electoral process as a presidential candidate.
TRT World spoke to Guma el Gamaty, a prominent Libyan academic and head of the Taghyeer Political Party, to understand Libya's obstacles.
TRT WORLD: Libya wants to have free polls, but uncertainty increases ahead of the December 24 elections. Will the polls be successful?
GUMA El GAMATY: Unfortunately, there are wide disagreements and debates about the laws which were used to organise the elections. Two of the laws passed by the House of Representatives (HoR) which are loyal to Aguila Saleh (Haftar's sidekick) are seen as very weak laws. They don’t enjoy a wide range of support. Because of these agreements and objections, this puts in doubt whether the elections will be successful. We may have it, but it does not guarantee that the elections will solve the problem. The presidential elections in this way might take us back and it is a serious danger.
Is it possible to have fair elections in a country where a warlord controls some major cities?
GG: This is another major issue, people who stand for presidential or parliamentary elections can not campaign freely in the whole of Libya because the east is controlled by Haftar. They will stop anyone who doesn’t support Haftar. These elections should be normally secured by GNU, but the government can not operate in the east.
There is a potential danger of widespread manipulation of the votes, particularly in the areas controlled by Haftar. Even the observers have to be approved by Haftar forces, and we are not sure that there will be many international observers. I’m seriously in doubt about transparency and fairness.
Recently, many Libyan politicians, including some HoR members, gathered in Tripoli to protest against the so-called constitutional law issued by Aguila Saleh. What was that about?
GG: First of all, Aguila Saleh and his group managed to pass laws that are in favour of Haftar. Haftar doesn’t need to resign thanks to these laws. This has been seen as favouring him. Normally people holding dual citizenship could not be able to run but Aguila even allowed it. Haftar is also a US citizen.
The other issue in the parliamentary elections in which they have prevented political parties from using the list system. So there are no lists for the listing system. Everyone should apply individually.
What role do Libya's tribes play in shaping the country's future?
GG: Well, Libyan society is partly tribal in certain areas. Tribes are much stronger in the east and south. However, they will be very influential in pushing members for parliament who are chosen based on tribal loyalty and who have no expertise. The tribes will be divided between Haftar and Saif al Islam Gaddafi, son of Muammar Gaddafi.
What do you think about the UN's position in Libya? We know that there have been no sanctions against those who support Haftar against the UN-backed government in Libya. On the other hand, Russia, France, the UAE and others support Haftar, contradicting the UN's stand. How do ordinary Libyans see the role of the international body in conflict resolution?
GG: Literally not positive. Unfortunately, the Libyan people don't have positive feelings about the UN. The UN has not shown positive leadership and direction. A lot of Libyan people feel the UN does not create a solution. It is mostly a problem of the international community and the UN which should show dedication and will for reforms.
We’ve also seen some of the countries that have supported Haftar while announcing that they will be opening embassies and consultancies in Benghazi. In terms of diplomacy, that might be anticipated as a step towards legitimising Haftar and the East. Is it a part of the partition plan, if there's any?
GG: I don’t think there is a partition plan for Libya. The US is against it. But they want Haftar to keep control in the east and south so they can use him as a point of leverage.
We are suffering from the legacy of the Donald Trump administration. They did not pay enough attention to foreign policy in the Middle East and the growing influence of Russia in Libya. This allowed Russia to infiltrate Libya through Wagner. Until now, we have not seen much change in the Biden administration as well. Also, there is a paradox, France is a member of NATO and yet France is closely working with Russia in Libya.
Some actors in the conflict want Turkey to withdraw its forces from Libya, while it's a well known fact that Tripoli was able to survive because of Turkey's support. Why would figures like Libya's transitional foreign minister, Najla Mangoush, speak against Turkey's support to the UN-backed government and equate the Turkish troops, which are in Libya under a UN-recognised legal agreement, with foreign mercenaries?
GG: First of all, Najla is not deciding by herself. PM Dbeibah also has a say. And he has a very strong relationship with Turkey. Countries like the UAE, Egypt and France see Turkey as the main reason behind Haftar’s failure. They were planning to control Libya through Haftar. Turkey stopped the war and created a balance. Turkish support allowed the previous government to push warlord Haftar thousands of kilometers away from Tripoli.
Turkey is there based on a transparent agreement that was signed with the legitimate and internationally-recognised government. They are advisers, trainers and they are helping to rebuild Libya’s official armed forces. All the other mercenaries fighting with Haftar coming from other African countries, Russia-backed mercenaries are all illegal. They’ve killed civilians, children, especially in the war against Tripoli. Turkish presence and mercenary presence are totally different things.
The electoral committee has started registering candidates for the December 24 elections. Haftar and Aref al Nayed both announced they will run for the top post. We know that they both are close to the UAE. So is it all about multiplying the candidates to divide the vote bank or the UAE has another plan if Haftar fails?
GG: I think because they think that someone like Aref can take some of the votes from western Libya and can divide the votes of Haftar’s opponents. So, in fact, Aref will be helping Haftar. I think in the second round, Aref will ask his supporters to support Haftar. This is a strategy suggested by Egypt and the UAE.
As the head of Taghyeer Party, what are your main targets? Are we going to see you collaborating with Haftar's rivals?
GG: We have candidates standing for parliamentary elections. Our main aim is to get as many MPs as we can and then cooperate with similar groups supporting a civil state and being totally against the military plan of Haftar. Moreover, we believe in the importance of a strategic partnership with Turkey because Turkey is the best country and partner to help us with institution building, reconstruction of Libya.
There are three main areas where Turkey can support us: institutional state-building, restructuring security organisations, and reconstruction across all sectors.
The role of Turkey in Libya has been very constructive and Ankara came to the aid in 2020 at a crucial time where the dictatorship was making a comeback. Turkey stopped this. Turkey and Libya have a deep historical relationship and this goes back to centuries ago. Turkey continues to play an important role and to build a strong economy and democracy, which will provide prosperity and high standards of living for all Libyans.
Haftar has previously announced that he would not recognise the election results if he doesn't emerge as a winner. So what are the possible scenarios awaiting Libya and what might happen if Haftar fails to win the elections?
GG: I think, unfortunately, there is a possibility that the elections will fail in bringing a solution in Libya. There are strong divisions remaining. The laws are designed to favor one side, Haftar. Even if we elect a president, he will fail to impose authority against Khalifa Haftar. Even if Haftar gets elected, he will not be recognised in Tripoli.
The prospect is not good enough, we should be ready to expect the failure of the election results.
There should be a plan B, which is to go back to the constitutional track and allow Libyans to vote for a referendum that can become a new, civilian and permanent constitution in Libya.