Is Libya’s Haftar preparing for elections in December?

Is Libya’s Haftar preparing for elections in December?

 Is Libya’s Haftar preparing for elections in December?

Haftar drops military role

Libya’s eastern strongman Khalifa Haftar said Wednesday he was suspending his military activities, a step which could lead to his candidacy in elections later this year.

In a statement, Haftar said he had named an interim replacement as head of the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army until December 24, the date of the legislative and presidential vote.

Libyan media said the step opens the way for Haftar to run as a presidential candidate under a controversial new law.

Haftar heads the eastern-based LNA and waged war on western factions after the country split in 2014, including a 14-month offensive to take Tripoli that was repelled last year after devastating areas of the capital.

Libyan media said the step opens the way for Haftar to run as a presidential candidate under a controversial new law.

National elections were pushed as a way to end Libya’s decade-long crisis, but have been enmeshed in bitter arguments over legitimacy that may unravel a months-long peace process.

The election was mandated last year by the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, a UN-selected assembly that set a plan for peace in Libya, a major oil producer, through installing a unity government and holding a nationwide vote.

However, while the existing, eastern-based parliament approved the unity government in March, key elements of the plan have since stalled and on Tuesday the chamber said it had withdrawn confidence from Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeibah.

Earlier this month, parliament speaker Aguila Saleh approved a presidential election law with a controversial clause that analysts said was tailored to allow him and Haftar to run for office without risking their existing positions.

The clause, passed in a vote with a small number of lawmakers present, said officials could step down three months before the election and return to their posts if they did not win. The chamber did not vote on the final version of the law.

The parliament, which was elected in 2014 and split soon afterwards into warring factions, has not yet approved a law for a separate parliamentary election, as was demanded by the UN dialogue forum.

A Tripoli-based advisory body, the High Council of State, has rejected the parliament’s election law, raising the likelihood that any vote will be contested as illegal.

In the statement, Haftar, 77, said his replacement General Abdelrazak al-Nadhuri “will occupy the functions of General Commander for a period of three months” from September 23 to December 24.

Haftar had waged a year-long assault on Tripoli, leaving thousands dead, before reaching a formal ceasefire with his western opponents in October last year.

Change of route

It appears that Haftar’s stance has changed in recent weeks, as he becomes more open to the possibility of the December elections legitimately taking place. He previously stated that he would use force to ensure his power should the December elections produce unfavorable results, but his recent moves have shown a shift in this stance.

Pressure from Egypt could have played a role in this shift. Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi received Haftar and parliament speaker Aguila Saleh on Tuesday, the Egyptian presidency said. Cairo has long been seen as one of Haftar’s main supporters.

Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel also took part in the meeting, Egyptian presidential spokesman Bassam Radi said, without providing details on the exchange.

In August, the US ambassador to Libya Richard Norland travelled to Cairo “to meet with Egyptian officials and… Haftar as part of US efforts to support Libyan parliamentary and presidential elections in December”, the embassy said at the time.

Sisi in February pledged support for neighbouring Libya in talks with the country’s then newly appointed interim prime minister, Abdulhamid Dbeibah, and is known to have pushed Haftar towards accepting the elections as well.

Meanwhile, Haftar appears to be taking the advise of his backers, and preparing for a political and even geopolitical route.

Haftar has hired veteran political insiders to lobby on his behalf to the Biden administration and the U.S. Congress, according to documents.

Haftar has made a $40,000 advance payment to retain the services of former special counsel to President Bill Clinton, Lanny Davis, and ex-Republican House lawmaker Robert Livingston, according to the Foreign Agents Registration Act filings dated Sept. 3.

The total fees Haftar will pay amount to some $960,000 over the course of six months, an engagement letter contained in the Justice Department documents indicates.

Davis and Livingston are to arrange meetings for Haftar between White House, Pentagon and State Department officials, as well as key members of Congress including the leadership in the House of Representatives and Senate, according to the documents.

The duo is also expected to arrange additional meetings with think tanks such as the left-leaning Center for American Progress and the United States Institute of Peace ahead of Libya’s general election in December.

Haftar intends to travel to the U.S. “to advocate for the Dec. 24, 2021 elections in Libya” during meetings with U.S. officials, the documents say.

The disclosure comes as Haftar attempts to regain influence in Washington after his military offensive failed to oust the internationally recognized government in Tripoli. He maintains control over eastern Libya.

Haftar is the subject of several lawsuits in U.S. courts from plaintiffs who allege his forces have carried out grievous rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, torture and other war crimes.

He is a defendant in three separate federal lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. Plaintiffs allege their loved ones were killed or tortured by Haftar’s forces.

State of planned elections

The lull in violence and a United Nations-led transition process have sparked hopes that the oil-rich North African country could move on after a decade of violence that followed the fall and killing of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in a 2011 revolt.

But on Tuesday Libya’s parliament passed a no-confidence vote in the unity government, raising questions about plans for the December ballot.

Eighty-nine of the 113 lawmakers who attended the lower house session in the eastern city of Tobruk voted to withdraw confidence from the Tripoli-based administration of interim Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah, spokesman Abdallah Bliheq said.

But an upper house based in the capital rejected the vote, saying it violated established procedures, laying bare once more the extent of divisions between the country’s east and west.

The latest escalation came amid tensions between the House of Representatives and Dbeibah’s government, which took office earlier this year with a mandate to guide the North African country to elections on December 24.

Those polls look increasingly unlikely to happen amid the escalating political wrangling, casting doubt on a United Nations-led process aimed at ending a decade of violence since the fall of dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

The UN special envoy for Libya warned Friday that failure to hold presidential and parliamentary elections on Dec. 24 could renew division and conflict and thwart efforts to unite the oil-rich North African nation after a decade of turmoil.

Jan Kubis told the UN Security Council that “aborting the drive for elections will be for many be a signal that violence is the only path to power in the country.”

UN-sponsored peace talks brought about a cease-fire last October between rival governments in Libya’s east and west and installed an interim government that is expected to lead the country into December elections, but the Libyan parliament has failed to finalise a legal framework for voting to take place.

The decision of the Libyan House of Representatives to withdraw the vote of confidence given to the National Unity Government at the session held in Tobruk on Sept. 21 will not contribute to the stability and transition process of Libya, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said.

In a written statement, the ministry emphasized that it is important that the National Unity Government remain at work with full authority until the elections, as foreseen in the road map, in order to organize the elections on the foreseen date, to manage the transition process well and to preserve the calm environment in the country.

“At the current critical stage, it is beneficial for all parties in Libya to set aside their self-interest struggles and vicious legitimacy debates and focus on Libya’s priorities responsibly,“ the ministry said.

Hazem Zahab

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