Libya's presidency seeks consensus on election law

FILE PHOTO: Mohamed al-Menfi, Head of the Presidential Council of Libya, talks to media after a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, March 23, 2021. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The head of Libya's Presidency Council said on Saturday he would urge candidates in elections proposed for December not to take part unless there was consensus on the vote's legal framework.

Speaking to Reuters in New York, Mohamed al-Menfi said it was his goal to make sure the national presidential and parliamentary elections went ahead as planned on Dec. 24.

However, he added: "Not having a proper vision towards this election, (not having) this kind of consensus, is by itself a risk".

The elections were mandated as part of a roadmap drawn up last year by a political forum convened by the United Nations to end a decade-long crisis, but disputes over the vote threaten to unravel the peace process.

Libya has been racked by chaos and violence since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that ousted Muammar Gaddafi, and it was split after 2014 between warring western and eastern factions.

Besides setting elections, the U.N.-backed roadmap produced a new transitional administration to take over from the rival governments that had emerged in Tripoli and the east during the civil war.

The roadmap installed a three-man Presidency Council drawn from Libya's three regions and headed by Menfi to act as head of state, as well as a Government of National Unity (GNU) headed by Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah.

All sides in Libya and the foreign powers involved in the conflict say the elections must go ahead, but the U.N.-backed dialogue forum and Libya's existing institutions have not agreed a constitutional basis for the vote.


The head of the eastern-based parliament, the House of Representatives (HoR), said this month the body had issued a law for a presidential election. It has said it is still working on a separate law for a parliamentary election.

But amid controversy over how the law was agreed in the chamber, and over clauses that critics of the speaker said were tailored to allow him to run without risking his current role, other state institutions have rejected it.

"The problem is not about the legality of the laws... it's a political problem," said Menfi.

He said the legal basis for the election must be agreed by both the HoR and the High State Council (HSC), an advisory body created in 2015 through a U.N.-backed political agreement aimed at ending the civil war.

"This is a constitutional path which is the main responsibility of the parliament and the High State Council," he said.

Potential candidates in the election include an array of factional leaders who divide opinion in Libya and there are questions over whether any vote could be free or fair when armed groups control most of the country.

Menfi said it was vital to ensure before any election that there was agreement on its legal basis and that all candidates would agree to accept the results.

"If they don't reach consensus, then sacrifice - let's all withdraw from this process and step down," he said.

He said the Presidency Council would step in only if the other bodies - the HoR, the HSC, the U.N. and its dialogue forum - were unable to resolve a legal framework.

"Our goal is to make sure elections happen and we hand over on the 24th whatever happens," he said.

(Reporting by Ben Kellerman, additional reporting by Mohamed Farag in Cairo, writing by Angus McDowall, editing by Timothy Heritage)

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