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Libya Political Dialogue Hangs in the Balance

Libya Political Dialogue Hangs in the Balance

Friday, 4 December, 2020 - 05:30
In-person talks as part of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum were hosted in Tunisia in November. AFP

On the surface, Libya's ceasefire is holding and rival parties are at the negotiating table. But success still hangs in the balance because of deep divisions over a transitional executive.


"Time is not on your side," interim United Nations representative Stephanie Williams told a virtual meeting of a political dialogue on Wednesday.


The forum is part of a push to end almost a decade of violence in the North African country.


The 75 participants have agreed to hold elections on December 24, 2021, but not on who will lead the political transition towards the polls.


The situation is "very difficult now because of the divisions in the institutions, and because of the epidemic of corruption and this kleptocratic class that is determined to remain in power", the envoy said.


Libya has been wracked by violence and chaos since the toppling and killing of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.


Forces loyal to the UN-recognized Government of National Accord based in Tripoli and those of its rival, eastern strongman Khalifa Haftar, formally agreed a ceasefire in October.


After a failed offensive on Tripoli launched by Haftar in April 2019, the two sides have returned to negotiations, AFP reported.


The United Nations has "succeeded in speeding up the rhythm of the inter-Libyan negotiations by exerting pressure on all parties, as much on the military level as the political", said Miloud el-Hajj, a Libyan university professor in international relations.


He said this strategy has "reduced the gap between the parties in conflict and made a final settlement possible".


But since the delegates homed in on a mechanism to designate members of a new transitional government, sharp divisions within Libya's fractured political class reduced the UN to a "powerless observer", Hajj added.


He warned that the whole process depends on agreement on the formation of a unified executive.


"I know that there are many who think that this whole dialogue is just about sharing power, but it is really about sharing responsibility for future generations," Williams said.


"This is my ask of you as we have the discussions today in going forward," she told the delegates, selected by the UN on geographic, political and ideological lines.


Already after a first in-person session held in the Tunisian capital last month, the legitimacy of the delegates was questioned by allegedly under-represented groups.


Libyan organizations have since called for corruption charges to be investigated linked to the selection process of a future leadership.


UN experts have been tasked with looking into any such cases.


Such "rumors over bribes to support certain candidates for the post of prime minister" could "discredit the results (of the political dialogue) and lead to their rejection by the Libyan people", said Imane Jalal, a university law professor.


But the selection of a new executive is not the only bone of contention.


The appointment of heads of strategic institutions such as the Central Bank and the National Oil Corporation is also proving divisive, while the Libyan parliament for its part has failed to convene for two years.


More than 120 deputies pledged at talks in Morocco in late November to convene parliament as soon as they return in Ghadames, a desert oasis considered a neutral venue... but questions have since arisen over the choice of location.


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