On December 21, 2021, the High National Elections Commission of Libya ordered the dissolution of electoral committees nationwide and confirmed that the first presidential election in the country’s history, which was due to be held on December 24, 2021, would be postponed. The factors leading to the postponement were security concerns and disputes over the eligibility of the main candidates, the fundamental rules governing the election, “controversial” election laws issued last fall by parliament speaker and presidential candidate Aguila Saleh, and the eventual powers of the parliament and the next president of the country.
The commission, after communicating with the parliament, has proposed a new date of January 24, 2022, but some, such as Libyan journalist Rami R. Musa, have expressed doubts that the election would be held this year as well.
Background to the Election Conflict
Following the overthrow and killing of Libya’s last president, Muammar Gaddafi, in an uprising by rebel forces backed by UN Security Council-approved NATO air strikes in October 2011, Libya descended into civil strife, which led to a power vacuum that has continued to the present.
Several days before the current election was to be held, rival armed groups had begun mobilizing in Tripoli, with no official list of candidates having been presented to the public or formal campaigning conducted. Reportedly, some Libyans were fearful that the disputes over the current election process could trigger a crisis similar to the one following the June 2014 parliamentary election when the country erupted into civil war between western and eastern factions that established parallel administrations in Tripoli and Benghazi.
Controversial Main Candidates
Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, who was sentenced to death by a court in Tripoli in absentia in 2015 for war crimes committed during the rebel uprising and who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes, registered as a candidate for president on November 14, 2021. However, the High National Elections Commission rejected his candidacy, claiming that he had violated article 10 of Libyan Resolution No. 73 of 2021, the Presidential Elections Law, which stipulates that anyone who has been “convicted by a final judgment of a crime or felony involving moral turpitude or dishonesty” is ineligible to be a candidate.
In addition, General Khalifa Haftar, a warlord from the eastern part of the country, announced his candidacy on November 16, 2021. However, it remains unclear whether he, like Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, will be allowed to run because of allegations he has committed human rights abuses. In November 2021, a court in the western Libyan city of Misrata sentenced him to death in absentia for bombing a military college in 2019.
Laws Governing the Election
Resolution No. 73 of 2021
The High National Elections Commission issued Resolution No. 73 of 2021 on the Adoption of the List of Candidates for the Election of the President of the State on November 7, 2021. The resolution consists of 18 provisions that regulate the procedures and mechanisms for candidacy in the presidential election.
Among the requirements that presidential candidates must meet are that they must be at least 35 years old, they must not have a foreign nationality, and their spouses must not be foreigners. (Resolution No. 73 of 2021, art. 4.)
The resolution also stipulates that candidates must be Libyan Muslims whose parents are Libyan Muslims. (Art. 4(1).) Furthermore, candidates must submit an affidavit that no final court judgment, decision of dismissal from employment, or employment-related disciplinary action has been issued against them. (Art. 4(6).)
Additionally, candidates must obtain a recommendation from 5,000 voters registered in the National Elections Commission’s database. (Art. 4(10).) Finally, candidates who are members of the Libyan parliament must submit evidence that they had stopped exercising their position permanently three months before December 24, 2021. (Art. 4(12).)
The resolution also provides that the electoral system is to be a two-round system. Voters first cast a vote for a single candidate. The election continues to a second round if no candidate receives a simple majority (50% plus 1) of votes in the first round. (Art. 3.)
Resolution No. 82 of 2021
The High National Elections Commission issued Resolution No. 82 of 2021 on Electoral Campaigns on November 29, 2021. The resolution states that electoral campaigning is a guaranteed right for all candidates. All candidates “have the right to introduce their political programs to the public.” (Resolution No. 82 of 2021, art. 3.)
According to the resolution, all candidates engaging in electoral campaigning must:
- Adhere to all decisions and instructions issued by the High National Elections Commission.
- Refrain from using terms during the campaign that negatively affect national unity.
- Follow the ethical principles of Shari‘a (Islamic law).
- Preserve the public order. (Art. 8.)
In accordance with Resolution No. 82 of 2021, the electoral campaign period ends and all campaign activities must cease 24 hours before the scheduled time of the opening of polling stations. (Art. 24.)