Libya Elections by Year-End ‘True Possibility,’ UN Envoy Says

(Bloomberg) -- Libya should be ready to hold elections this year, with rival factions on track to hold a national reconciliation conference by the end of March, the United Nations envoy to the oil-rich but chaotic north African state said.

“End of the year is a true possibility” for holding parliamentary and presidential elections, UN envoy Ghassan Salame said in an interview Friday at the Munich Security Conference. “It should be feasible unless something very negative happens between now and then.”

Salame said there has been “a lot of progress” on bringing Libyan sides together during the past few weeks “but we are not there yet.” The national unity meeting should take place within the first three months of the year, after “the important stakeholders agree on a political compromise,” he added.

There needs to be a “clear commitment” by all parties “to accept the results of the elections” to avoid a crisis similar to 2014, when disputes over the outcome of the last parliamentary vote provoked an armed escalation, Salame said. “And this I hope the national conference will produce.”

A summit on Libya hosted by Italy in November set a target of holding elections in the first half of 2019. But the timetable slipped as the UN struggled to overcome the differences among Libyans. First, a referendum needs to be held on a new constitution and laws passed on the framework for holding the polls.

A UN-brokered unity deal in 2015 failed to heal the country’s divisions. The government it dispatched into Tripoli, led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, has struggled to impose its authority, even over the capital.

Stabilizing Libya is a priority for European governments. Chaos has made it a favored transit point for migration to Europe, feeding a rise in populism. Insecurity has also enabled jihadists fleeing Syria and other conflicts to establish strongholds just across the Mediterranean.

Since a NATO-backed war ended Muammar Qaddafi’s 42-year rule in 2011, Libya has been carved up among militias and rival administrations in Tripoli and the east, which is largely under the control of military commander Khalifa Haftar. Infighting has repeatedly interrupted oil shipments, thwarting efforts to revive an economy ravaged by corruption and profiteering.

Salame urged foreign powers not to take sides. “The problem is that there are a number of actors who call for help from outside for themselves and therefore they complicate their own situation by not agreeing,” he said.

Haftar -- backed by Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates -- has built the main force opposing Sarraj’s government. Russia has also thrown its weight behind Qaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, saying it supports his right to stand in the presidential elections although he is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity. Italy, Qatar and Turkey have backed the Tripoli authorities.

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