Rival Libyan Leaders Agree to Hold Election

The leaders of Libya’s four rival governing factions agreed to hold elections in December. The agreement was finalized at a multilateral peace conference in Paris on Tuesday, May 29th, which included 20 representatives from 20 countries. Attendees to the conference included countries neighboring Libya, various powers in the region, European nations, the United States, and Russia. The rival factions agreed to hold elections for both parliament and the presidency with the hopes of reunifying the country under a single government. The agreement also calls for the unification of the central bank, phasing out of parallel governmental and institutional structures, and commits to the creation of a unified army. The leaders of the four factions included Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, head of the UN-backed government based in Tripoli, Khalifa Haftar, leader of the Libyan National Army, which controls the eastern part of the country, Aguila Saleh Issa, the parliament speaker who opposes the UN-backed government, and Khalid Al-Mishri, head of the High Council of State.

Major players in negotiations had positive reactions to the outcome of the conference. Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj supported the outcome in a press conference, saying: “We reaffirm the existence and the need for a constitutional basis to organize an election and the need for everyone to work hand-in-hand to make sure the elections are a success.” Similarly, French President Emmanuel Macron labeled the conference as “historic” and called the agreement “an essential step towards reconciliation.”

However, some observers and analysts were more skeptical. Libya political analyst Tarek Megerisi told the Telegraph, “I think we shouldn’t be overly convinced that this is a sign of meaningful progress. Even last year’s Paris conference when Haftar and Fayez did sign something it turned out to not mean much on the ground.” He continued, “And if you look at the set of principles signed, they still leave many vagaries, and many areas where not only these four personalities but other stakeholders on the ground in Libya who either refused to come or were not invited will still fight over formalizing and seeing how or whether elections can be held at the end of the year.” Mahmoud Abdelwahed, reporting for Al Jazeera from Libya’s capital, had similar concerns, arguing that the process still has “a long way to go” because the talks did not include important players in Libya. “[These] groups are very strong on the ground and they have power. Among them for example, is the armed group that defeated ISIL in the west of Libya and in the city of Sirte,” he said.

However, despite imperfections and potential problems down the road, this agreement marks a definitive step in the direction of peace and stability. The UN envoy to Libya, Ghassan Salame, said he was “optimistic.” He added that he had “never seen such convergence between the Libyan popular will and the international will.” Even Megerisi acknowledged that the agreement was a “nice start,” and that “It’s positive that they brought together four people from very divergent camps, four big personalities to agree to these set of principles.”

The conference took place against the backdrop of the ongoing conflict in Libya. In 2011, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) backed a revolt that ended the rule of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya’s leader at the time. The nation has remained largely divided into rival governments since 2014, with the UN-backed government in Tripoli and Haftar’s rival administration in the eastern portion of the country, each backed by a variety of political and military groups. The situation is complicated by the extensive stockpile of weapons held by competing groups within the country that could pose a security risk during elections. Additionally, competing interests among Middle Eastern nations have resulted in some countries backing different sides in the conflict, heightening instability. The UN, and European nations in particular, have been pushing for stability via reunification due to concerns over migration flows from Libya bringing terrorism into Europe, as hundreds of thousands have already fled the country for Europe.

In conclusion, the recent agreement marks an important milestone in the Libyan peace process. Agreeing to hold elections marks a significant step towards reunification. What remains to be seen is whether the agreement reached at the Paris Conference will be upheld by the involved parties. Hopefully, the election will run smoothly, polling locations will be securely guarded, and the winner of the election will assume control of the entire country, with separate government structures being subsequently phased out. However, there is also the unfortunate possibility that peace may not return to the country – rival groups that were not present at the Paris Conference may disrupt the elections, or any of the four factions may fail to uphold important parts of the agreement.

Chris Conrad