The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) reported last Friday that it had received on 5 October a copy of the latest electoral laws from parliament (the House of Representatives – HoR). These laws are intended to allow for constitutionally based elections to be held in Libya by the end of this year. These would be the first constitutionally based elections since the Qaddafi regime was ended.
Commenting on the receipt of these election laws, UNSMIL said ‘‘these solutions must be consensual and implementable.’’
Why did UNSMIL say consensual and implementable’’?
It will be recalled that, in reality, both the HoR (elected in 2014) and the unelected High State Council (HSC), created and selected through the Skhirat (Morocco) 2015 Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) must agree on any election rules. Parliament, as it has attempted previously on several occasions, cannot impose its will without consulting the HSC. This is enshrined in the LPA. This is why the UNSMIL statement says the election laws must be consensual.
The December 2015 Skhirat Libyan Political Agreement (LPA)
It will be recalled that in February 2011, as part of the Arab Spring political wind, Libyans rose against their 42-year Qaddafi regime, and thanks to huge NATO military intervention and UN political support, the Qaddafi regime was overthrown. Qaddafi died in October 2011 and elections were held in 2012.
2012 GNC elections: Constitution, referendum and elections
The mandate for the first parliament borne out of the 2012 elections, the General National Congress (GNC) was to draft and approve a constitution, hold a referendum on it, and hold constitutionally based elections. However, quickly status quo forces and political and militia differences, meant the GNC got totally distracted and failed to deliver its obligations within its set timeline.
Under immense public and militia pressure, the GNC accepted that it had failed in its two simple obligations and agreed to dissolve itself and hold elections in 2014.
The 2014 HoR elections
The fair and free 2014 elections gave birth to the current HoR. The elections removed the majority of the incumbents of the GNC. At the time, the GNC was deemed to have been dominated by the so-called ‘’political Islamists’’. They lost their control in the newly elected HoR to the so-called ‘‘liberals’’.
Islamists v liberals
Overtime, it must be noted, that these labels proved misnomers. Neither the Islamists proved to be Islamists nor the did the liberals prove to be liberals. They were all in it for the power and rentier wealth – not political philosophies. They were crude short hands that created cultural differences and clashes.
2014 Libya Dawn militia coup
Nevertheless, rather than handover and lose power, militias representing a rump of the GNC ‘‘Islamists’’ carried out a Tripoli militia coup entitled ‘‘Libya Dawn’’ and refused to hand over power to the newly elected HoR. They set up their own Government of National Salvation in Tripoli. The international community refused to recognise them, recognising the HoR and its government, which set up base in eastern Libya.
The bases of Libya’s existing political split
The 2014 Libya Dawn militia coup and its Government of National Salvation is the bases for Libya’s political split that still exists today.
LPA was a compromise giving birth to the HSC
UNSMIL and the international community sought to find a compromise between the rump GNC wing and its militias and the winners of the 2014 elections. The compromise was the LPA. The LPA was a political settlement brokered by UNSMIL/international community after the pollical collapse of the post-Qaddafi order. The compromise created the HSC containing the rump of the losing GNC and gave it ‘‘consultancy’’ powers. That is, the HoR must consult with the HSC on all major decisions before enacting laws.
HoR v HSC power struggle
The two houses spent most of the years since 2014 fighting for political dominance and over how far does ‘’consultancy’’ really go. Eventually, they started going through the motions of drafting a constitution and drafting election laws. However, along the way they were paid handsomely in salaries, housing and armoured car allowance and discovered that if they held elections, they would be shooting themselves in the foot and missing out on the gravy train.
The HoR and HSC against the people
They realised that as long as they continued to attend international meetings in plush hotels abroad, and act as if they were working on a constitution and election laws, they could remain in power for a long time. Several UNSMIL heads and the international community continued to play along with them and their militias in this huge international farce at the expense of the Libyan people. Meanwhile, the HoR and HSC continued to disagree.
Still waiting for constitutionally based elections today
This disagreement between the HoR and HSC is convenient for both entities. They have been able to use it as the excuse for not holding elections and therefore prolonging their existence. They have found a common cause. Their disagreement keeps them alive.
Election laws designed to fail
Another favourite trick of the HoR is enacting unsound election laws. To ensure that elections do not take place HoR Speaker Ageela Saleh likes to enact unworkable election laws that detonate in the run up to elections. He configures the election rules with inherent defects that are challenged in courts making them unusable. This is what UNSMIL means when it said ‘‘the implementability of the laws.’’
HoR and HSC do not want elections
Both the HoR and HSC do not want elections as most of their members and leaders know they are highly unlikely to ever be re-elected again. They are also loathed to lose their political influence and huge salaries and benefits and may even lose their lives if they remained in Libya without official security. Hence, it has become existential for them.
Libya hostage to status quo forces
They prioritise their personal minority interests above the interests of the majority of the Libyan people. In doing so, they hold the rest of the Libyan people prisoners and hostage to 12 years of weak, mandate-less, interim government.
Split government without mandate
Today’s Tripoli-based weak, unelected internationally recognised interim government is still not recognised in eastern Libya. It does not have a clear and strong political mandate to make radical change and reform to move Libya fully out of the Qaddafi era to a new progressive, dynamic and vital political, social and economic era.
A product of the rentier state
Libya’s corrupt political and military elite are able to do this because Libya is a rentier state. Libyans do not need to go to work every day and pay taxes for the state to be able to pay for their salaries, their subsidised electricity and fuel etc. The oil revenues and inherited hard currency savings are able to bank roll Libyans and state activity.
Rentier state subsidises the status quo
This oil tap of money is what encourages Libya’s bureaucracy, military and political elite to cling on to the status quo. In Libya, oil money has become a curse in its fullest sense. Rentierism in Libya has become an agent against political change leveraged by the forces of the status quo.
State salaries help repress political demands
With the majority of Libyans working for the state and receiving a state salary, the status quo forces are able to use this to sedate the general public and dampen down calls for progressive change.
Qaddafi, and many oil states and authoritarian regimes use rentier revenues to ‘‘buy’’ the general public into not making high political demands. A police state helps too. It works for decades until the political rot sets in so badly that the people rise dramatically bringing the corrupt system down.
International community complicit in election delays
Libyans hope the international community stop being complicit with their corrupt political elite in delaying democratic elections. They hope they put an end to the farce that the HoR and HSC keep replaying over the years. They hope the international community – west and east – stop putting their own short-term interests above Libya’s long term political and economic stability. Libyans hope they don’t have to wait another 42 years for elections.