The United Nations' political chief warned Wednesday that Libya could again see two rival administrations and a return to instability, calling for elections as soon as possible to unify the oil-rich North African nation.
Undersecretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo told the UN Security Council she is encouraged by support for a UN initiative to convene a joint committee from Libya's rival House of Representatives and High State Council with a goal of reaching agreement by both bodies “on a constitutional basis that would lead to elections this year.”
The crisis erupted after Libya failed to hold its first presidential elections on Dec. 24 under a UN-led reconciliation effort.
The country’s east-based House of Representatives named a new prime minister, former interior minister Fathi Bashagha, to lead a new interim government in February. The lawmakers claimed the mandate of interim Prime Minister Abdulhamid al-Dbeibeh, who is based in the capital, Tripoli, expired when the election failed to take place.
But Dbeibeh insists he will remain prime minister until elections are held, and the High State Council, which advises the interim government, called parliament’s decision to name a new prime minister “incorrect” before holding elections.
DiCarlo said UN special adviser on Libya, Stephanie Williams, on March 3 asked the House of Representatives speaker and High State Council president to appoint six members to the joint committee and both responded favorably. She said the council nominated its representatives on Tuesday and the UN expects the House of Representatives to do the same in the coming days.
Separately, DiCarlo said, Williams has offered to mediate between Dbeibeh and Bashagha “to overcome the current political impasse.”
Libya plunged into chaos after a NATO-backed 2011 uprising toppled longtime ruler Moammar al-Gaddafi. For years, it has been split between rival administrations in the east and the west, each supported by an array of militias and foreign governments.
In April 2019, east-based military commander Khalifa Hafter and his forces launched an offensive to capture Tripoli. Hafter’s campaign collapsed after Turkey stepped up their military support for the Tripoli government with hundreds of Turkish soldiers and thousands of Syrian mercenaries.
Mediated by Williams, then the acting UN envoy, an October 2020 cease-fire agreement led to the formation of a transitional government with Dbeibeh as prime minister and scheduled elections for Dec. 24 which are now postponed.
DiCarlo warned that the continuing standoff over “executive legitimacy” could again lead to two parallel administrations, “instability and possibly unrest and deal a severe blow to the prospect of elections.”
She said there have been “worrying developments” since March 1, when the House of Representatives held a vote of confidence on Bashagha’s new government. The vote was marred by “procedural flaws and threats of violence against some members of the chamber and their families” according to reports received by the United Nations.
DiCarlo pointed to the continuing suspension of airline flights between cities in the east and Tripoli and “forces in western Libya supporting either side moving on March 9-10 towards the capital.” She said Williams engaged both sides “and managed to reduce tensions.”
But the UN political chief warned that “Libya is now facing a new phase of political polarization, which risks dividing its institutions once again and reversing the gains achieved over the past two years.”
“We remain convinced that credible, transparent and inclusive elections based on a sound constitutional and legal framework are the only solution to the current stalemate,” she said.