Last week Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son and onetime heir apparent of the former dictator Muammar Gaddafi, appeared in the southern desert city of Sebha. A furtive, uneasy, and aged Gaddafi, who had been missing for several years, was dressed in robes that mirrored his father’s trademark look and if you squinted, it almost looked like Gaddafi himself had risen from his unmarked Saharan grave.
Gaddafi junior, who has been in hiding for four years, was back to take part in the Libyan presidential elections which are scheduled to take place on Christmas Eve this year. Since Libya’s last civil war formally ended with a ceasefire in October 2020, the UN has been forging ahead with a peace process to allow Libyans to hold their first national elections in seven years.
The UN roadmap was designed to prevent Libya’s status quo-oriented political elite, who have long acted as spoilers, from exerting influence over the electoral process. Yet UN mismanagement has seen the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum hamstrung. This has left the window open for the House of Representatives (HoR), Libya’s eastern-based parliament, to unilaterally push through a highly contested electoral framework.
Under this legislation, the first round of presidential elections on 24 December will be followed by a second round and parliamentary elections early next year, with the HoR retaining complete control over the timeline. This staggered approach means that the Libyan elite will be able to intervene and undermine the elections if things aren’t going the way they want.
Despite strong condemnation in many quarters and uncertainty over whether voting will actually take place, Libya’s powerbrokers are hedging their bets.