Agreement to hold Libyan elections could be misleading
Johannesburg – While representatives of a divided Libya have agreed to hold elections later this year - an agreement described as historic by French President Emmanuel Macron following the summit held at the Elysee Palace on Tuesday – optimism may be premature.
September 16 is the date set for outlining the constitutional basis and commitments to pass the necessary electoral laws so that both parliamentary and presidential elections can take place on December 10.
If the elections - the first parliamentary and presidential polls since former leader Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown and later killed during the Arab Spring in 2011 - do go ahead they will follow nearly seven years of chaos, bloodshed and instability which have wracked the North African country.
There are two rival governments in the country jockeying for power. The UN and internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Al Sarraj based in the capital Tripoli in the west, and the legislative House of Representatives (HoR) based in Tobruk in the east and supported by renegade General Khalifa Haftar and his self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA).
That both men appeared at Macron’s summit, which was attended by representatives from 20 countries, as well as the UN, was positive but there are many realities on the ground which may make the holding of democratic elections unviable.
"While the optics of this meeting are very encouraging, there is no breakthrough here," Al Jazeera reported Riccardo Fabiani, geopolitical analyst at UK-based Energy Aspects, stating.
"There is once again just a promise to solve the problems through dialogue and a timeframe that looks quite unrealistic," Fabiani added, noting that the two rivals attending the Paris summit only gave their vocal support to the political roadmap without signing any agreement.
The International Crisis Group has also cautioned against rushing into an agreement.
"Reaching an accord could generate a brief moment of enthusiasm but risk being followed by recriminations when signatories - facing opposition by some of their allies back home - renege on their pledges," the group said this week.
The myriad of rival militias which control large swathes of the country and are divided in their support of the two governments were unrepresented at the conference. Neither were some of Libya’s more powerful key players invited.
Outside players keen to extend their political influence while eyeing Libya’s oil resources have further exacerbated the conflict by providing military support to opposing sides of the divide.
And past history doesn’t evoke optimism, with Macron hosting a similar meeting last July, while similar summits in Egypt, the UAE and elsewhere failed to produce any meaningful progress.
Last September the UN’s Libya Envoy, Ghassan Salame, criticised the high number of talks taking place with regard to Libya pointing out that a fractured leadership agreeing to a roadmap was different to getting the militias to support it.
And ahead of the Paris meeting, a western Libya-based group of 13 military councils and brigades, loosely aligned with Sarraj's government, issued a statement denouncing the Paris summit, saying it did not represent their interests.
Furthermore, state institutions are weak and even if a democratically government is elected this does not translate into democracy on the ground in the absence of unified security forces and other fractured state institutions.