Libyan presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for December 2021 have been postponed indefinitely amid growing tensions. The planned elections had raised hopes of breaking the deadlock and reuniting the Libyan people to bring stability and prosperity, but they did not materialize.
As a result, the re-emergence of a cabinet backed by Haftar, defying the UN-backed Government of National Unity (GNU), led to renewed polarization and slashing. Said cabinet is headed by former interior minister Fathi Bashagha.
There are simply too many factors of political instability in the country, including a lack of consensus on crucial issues, such as the reunification of institutions, the constitution, economic reform and reform of the security sector.
Haftar reportedly ordered the suspension of oil exports from Libya. More recently, Libya’s National Oil Corporation announced the suspension of production at a major oil field in the south of the country, declaring a “force majeure” due to a protest at the site. Eastern tribes and militias, which are aligned with Haftar and want power transferred to the Bashagha, have also threatened to continue disrupting the country’s oil facilities. Libya produces 1.3 million barrels a day and the shutdowns cut around 600,000 bpd from its production last week.
Haftar could have been encouraged by his external donors, mainly Russia, to take advantage of this to exert economic pressure on the authorities in Tripoli…
Libya ranks as the largest oil economy in terms of proven reserves in Africa. As hydrocarbons are the main source of economic growth in the country, commercial activities have been severely affected by the perpetual conflicts around oil infrastructure in recent years.
After the ousting of longtime Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, some Libyan actors have – from time to time – halted oil production and used the oil blockade as a political weapon put pressure on the authorities in Tripoli. For example, in January 2020, eastern tribes and militias backed by Haftar’s LNA halted exports from five key oil terminals, drastically reducing the country’s crude production, in an attempt to choke off oil revenues. the previous administration. According to the NOC, this resulted in approximately $10 billion in financial losses. Haftar has tried to use the oil blockade as leverage against governments in Tripoli in the past.
Mohamed Oun, Libya’s oil and gas minister in the UN-backed GNU, recently said the blockades would not have happened without the cooperation of the Petroleum Installations Guard, which is under the control of Khalifa Haftar. .
Haftar could have been encouraged by his external backers, mainly Russia, to take advantage of this to exert economic pressure on the authorities in Tripoli and on Western countries, mainly those that import oil and gas from Libya, such as the Italy and Germany.
Due to the war in Ukraine, energy prices have increased significantly. As a result, Western countries expected OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) to boost production as high energy prices contributed to soaring inflation around the world. Given that Libya has the largest oil reserves on the continent and the ninth-largest known reserves in the world, the potential decline in oil production could lead to another spike in global energy prices.
Prospect of drafting a new constitution
Recently, under the auspices of the UN, representatives of Libya’s two rival governments began talks in Egypt with a view to reaching an agreement on the constitutional basis of fair, credible and transparent elections in the coming months.
Special Adviser to the UN Secretary General, Stephanie Williams, said that “the Libyan public believes that the ultimate solution to the problems that continue to plague Libya is through elections, held on a solid constitutional basis and an electoral framework that provides the safeguards of an electoral process”.
Many Libyans seemed eager to go to the polls as 2.8 million of them had registered to vote. Holding free and fair elections requires a conducive political and security environment where everyone can participate and engage in the political process and support democratic transition pathways.
After the civil war, there is no evidence that elections can solve the problems of state weakness and political division. For example, in 2014, Libya held the second parliamentary elections in the post-Gaddafi period, but this did not solve the problems. It’s only exacerbated the political, military and economic stability of the country. As a result, fighting between militias escalated and split Libya into two halves (each with its own government) and accelerated the fragmentation of the country. Therefore, the timing of post-conflict elections – along with coordination with the choice of a constitution – and the security situation in the country directly affect the prospect of the emergence of a viable post-conflict democracy.
In the wake of the civil war, a settlement on the constitutional design should precede elections, which otherwise risk provoking conflict. Thus, having a firm consensus on a constitutional basis is the necessary first step for the holding of elections. The interim, a constitutional convention, should establish how the governance of Libya will be formed, including central authority, presidential, parliamentary and electoral rules.
The recent talks in Egypt, sponsored by the UN, may have helped to increase optimism about a restart of the process of political negotiations. Talks are expected to continue next month as the UN pushes for consensus and a constitutional framework that can serve as the basis for holding elections. However, there is little hope that the talks can make significant progress in resolving existing issues, including reaching a widely accepted constitution for elections, as there has not yet been an agreement. .
What is more likely is that Libya will continue to be in disarray. The two rival parties, especially the eastern side, seem to stick to their personal political and economic interests. They may be much less likely to cooperate with the UN-backed peace process to achieve lasting political stability. Therefore, the holding of free and fair elections in the coming months seems unlikely.