Libya parliament says ‘impossible’ to hold presidential vote

CAIRO (AP) — A Libyan parliamentary committee said Wednesday that it has become “impossible” to hold the long-awaited presidential election in two days as scheduled, a major blow to international efforts to end a decade of chaos in the oil-rich country.

The announcement was the first official statement that the balloting would not happen on Friday, although it had been widely expected amid mounting challenges and calls for a delay of the vote.

For nearly a year, the planned election was the lynchpin of international efforts to bring peace to Libya, and many have warned that either scenario — holding the vote on time or postponing it — could be a destabilizing setback.

In a letter to Parliament Speaker Aguila Saleh, lawmaker al-Hadi al-Sagheir, head of the committee tasked to follow the electoral process, said the group found “it is impossible to hold the election as scheduled on Dec. 24.” He did not specify whether another date had been set for the voting, or if it had been canceled altogether.

The country’s election commission, which never named a final list of candidates as it was supposed to, disbanded the electoral committees late Tuesday, and also handed over responsibility for the vote to parliament.

The commission on Wednesday proposed Jan. 24 as a new date for the first round of the presidential election and urged parliament to address the challenges that led to failure to hold the vote on Friday.

Many lawmakers have called on Libyans to take to the streets to protest the election delay. Around 100 candidates had put themselves forward, including several high profile individuals who were subsequently banned from the race — including Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, the son of Libya’s late dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was ousted and killed in a NATO-backed uprising in 2011.

Al-Sagheir, the lawmaker, said his committee reached its conclusion after “reviewing technical, security and judicial reports.” He urged Saleh, the parliament speaker who suspended his duties to join the presidential race, to return to his job so he could “mobilize efforts” to and help “re-draw a roadmap” to revive the political process.

The vote had faced many challenges, including disputes over the laws governing the elections and occasional infighting among armed groups. Other obstacles include a long-running rift between the country’s east and west, and the presence of thousands of foreign fighters and troops in the North African country.

Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director, said it was “all but impossible” to hold the vote amid violence and intimidation by armed groups and militias which “not only enjoy rampant impunity but are integrated into state institutions without any vetting to remove those responsible for crimes under international law.”

She urged the interim government in Tripoli and the self-styled Arab Armed Forces to “immediately instruct all armed groups and militias under their command to end their harassment and intimidation of electoral officials, judges and security staff.”

Libya plunged into turmoil after the 2011 uprising and split between rival governments — one in the east, backed by military commander Khalifa Hifter, and another U.N.-supported administration in the capital of Tripoli, in the west. Each side is supported by a variety of militias and foreign powers.

In April 2019, Hifter and his forces, backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, launched an offensive to try and capture Tripoli. His campaign collapsed after Turkey stepped up its military support of the Tripoli government with hundreds of troops and thousands of Syrian mercenaries.

Mediated by the United Nations, an October 2020 cease-fire led to the formation of a transitional government with elections scheduled for Dec. 24. The fate of that government is now unclear; the parliamentary committee said the government’s mandate ends on Friday.

Later Wednesday, the east-based parliament’s presidency tasked a 10-lawmaker committee to propose within a week a new roadmap after failing to hold the vote as planned. It said lawmakers would discuss the proposal in the next general session, without giving a date.

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