Libyan statehood is yet to recover from the removal of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 by a Western-backed rebellion. The absence of political stability in the country continues to perpetuate violent clashes between armed groups, which take their toll on civilians’ everyday lives, and the jumble of local and international actors cannot compromise on their opposing ambitions long enough to address the disaster. Amidst this disarray, the country’s political powers have consistently disagreed on the road map for elections, leaving the country in a state of frozen conflict. If Libya is to re-establish its statehood, the competing political parties must agree on a framework for executing elections.
There are several poles of political and military power in Libya, each with backing from different international stakeholders; for example, General Khalifa Haftar, Commander of the Libyan National Army (L.N.A.), wields substantial political capital because his forces control large swaths of the country. Haftar’s forces are also augmented by fighters from the now notorious Wagner Private Military Company, an instrument of Russian president Vladimir Putin, and Haftar receives political and military-technical support from Moscow.
Although this faction represents a potent element of the Libyan politican scene, it is a mistake to assume that Haftar’s strongman personality and his Russian guns are the sole force undermining the country’s democracy. According to the United States Institute for Peace, there is fierce competition for political power between the U.N.-backed Government of National Unity (G.N.U.), headed by Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah and based in Tripoli, and the Government of National Stability (G.N.S.), headed by Fathi Bashagha and based in the city of Sirte. Many other complex factors also tangle the situation, such as the fact that Libya has never been home to any democratic system. There are no strong institutions to facilitate the establishment of a resilient and robust democratic system.
In recent days, the Libyan Post reported that 49 Libyan presidential candidates, out of a total of 73 candidates, proposed an initiative to remove the deadlocks around the election and carry out the election within 270 days. (Neither the U.N., the G.N.U., the G.N.S. or the L.N.A. has made any response to these demands.) However, there is a level of reluctance amongst certain groups, whom the Libyan Observer reported believe that holding an election could lead to further conflict, should there be uncertainty regarding the vote’s results. As some candidates, such as General Haftar, are in command of sizable personal armies, their willingness to accept any eventual results does represent a valid concern.
How can a practical, effective deal be worked out to bring some measure of long-term stability to a Libyan state that has existed without a viable political system since the Western-backed toppling of Gaddafi? Resolution is only likely be found once Libya’s international stakeholders arrange to compel the respective parties they are backing towards a feasible agreement. However, this will be challenging considering Libya’s value to the various international competitors, each of which has a stake in furthering their interest in the country. These parties must first work out the issues underlying their clashes before they will be willing to push for a viable Libyan political system.
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