Libya: Deciding Elections Before the Vote

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December 2, 2021: Apparently there is enough Libyan and international support to hold the December 24 elections that are supposed to unite the country under one government. Libya is still divided by multiple factions, foreign intervention and interference, as well as a major problem with corruption. The situation is further complicated by Russia, one of the few nations with a UN veto, that is blocking the appointment of UN officials to lead the UN Libya operations, if the proposed candidate is seen as a threat to Russian interests in Libya. Several senior UN officials in Libya have resigned, citing the difficulties dealing with the factions and their foreign backers, like Russia. The UN is also unwilling or unable to sanction Turkey for intervening in 2019, and breaking a number of international treaties and UN sanctions, to rescue the UN backed GNA (Government of National Accord) in Tripoli. The result is that the UN insists the December 24 national vote will go ahead while foreigners and locals in Libya doubt the election will work and the fighting will resume.

The Kaddafi dictatorship replaced a functioning monarchy in 1969 with a functioning dictatorship that relied on corruption, bribes and exploiting tribal and ethnic differences and support of Islamic terrorism to survive, but it finally failed in 2011. All those bad habits Kaddafi exploited are still present and remain obstacles to a united government. Arab and Western states have different attitudes towards dealing with Libya. The Arabs know from long, plus very recent, experience that most Libyans want domestic peace and economic stability. Any form of “Islamic government” and Islamic politics is unpopular. The much less corrupt west has no practical experience with the impact of Islamic political factions and how difficult it is to create any kind of prosperity with all that corruption. Oil wealth helps, but only if the local government is willing to share enough to keep the peace. Most Arab oil states do. This included Kaddafi. But most African oil states do not share and the oil wealth creates more poverty because nearly all of it is stolen. Nigeria discovered the extent of this in the late 1990s as they made a serious effort to suppress their corruption.

The Major Factions

The major entities in Libya are, first, the HoR (House of Representatives) government that the UN discarded in 2014 because of failure to achieve democracy. In 2016 the UN created the GNA . The GNA had less popular support than the H0R but was strong enough in Tripoli and neighboring Misrata to force HoR to move east to Tobruk. Tripoli and Misrata were both dominated by Islamic militias that continue to back an Islamic government. HoR teamed up with the new LNA (Libyan National Army) that was created by Khalifa Haftar, an elderly former Kaddafi officer who fled Libya decades ago and returned after Kaddafi was overthrown in 2011. By 2019 Haftar had the support of most Libyans along with Russia, most Arab states, especially Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and the United States. The UN opposes Haftar, as does ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), the Moslem Brotherhood and pro-brotherhood nations like Turkey, Qatar and Iran. The main argument against Haftar is that he could turn into another dictator like Kaddafi. Haftar was an early supporter of Kaddafi and a colonel in the Libyan army when, in the late 1980s, he and Kaddafi became enemies and Haftar was declared a traitor. Haftar got support from the CIA to form an opposition force (the first LNA) but no African nations were willing to host it for long and by 1990 Haftar was living in the United States. Haftar became a U.S. citizen and spent 20 years living in the West before returning to Libya. Haftar is 77 and in declining health. He wants peace for his homeland, not another dictatorship.

Russia and several Arab nations have been involved in the Libyan civil war since 2015. Russia joined Egypt and some other Arab states in backing the LNA that had the support of most Libyans because of LNA efforts to suppress Islamic terrorism and restore order to the country. Neighboring Egypt was the first to witness the effectiveness of the LNA approach as Islamic terrorist activity and weapons smuggling declined as the LNA operations increased in eastern Libya. Egypt already had contacts with some Libyan tribes there and there were also a lot of Egyptians who still had jobs in Libya, mainly to support oil production. The news was enough to get other Arab nations as well as Russia and some Western nations willing to quietly support the LNA, which meant these nations could send some of their special operations troops in to get a better look from a ground level up-front-and-personal look at the situation.

That worked until Turkey intervened in 2019 to support the GNA opposition. Now the major obstacles to peace in Libya are the continued presence of Turkish and Russian forces. The arrival of the Turks rescued the GNA from extinction and created a stalemate. Despite that Turkey said it would withdraw in order to allow elections to be held. Since the Turks arrived under false pretenses, Russia refused to withdraw until the Turks did. This was unacceptable to the Turks and the GNA. In late 2020 UN brokered the creation of the GNU (Government of National Unity), yet another temporary government to unite Libya. The Turks, Russians, GNA HoR and LNA agreed to withdraw their forces as part of a late 2020 ceasefire/national unification plan. This agreement called for national elections to be held by the end of 2021. Both major factions and the UN agreed to the formation of a temporary GNU to deal with the details, like persuading the Russians and Turks to remove their troops, which would allow the GNU to access the entire country for voter registration and establishing voting locations.

Continued lack of cooperation from the Turks and pro-Islamic UN efforts to hold an election no matter what means the civil war will continue and the UN will come up with another solution to the problems they have repeatedly created. It’s become an article of faith with the UN leadership that nothing less than a representative government will work in Libya. Most UN members disagree but most of the UN budgets comes from the United States and another four industrialized states. This money pays for the UN. The U.S. and its European and NATO allies contribute nearly half the budget and if that group gets behind a UN proposal to establish a stable government in Libya, that proposal it is implemented. If it fails and is tried again and again it’s because the UN is responsive to nations that keep the organization going.

The leading candidates for president are Saif Kaddafi, one of the late dictator’s sons and long seen as popular with the many supporters of the late dictator as well as many other factions that want unity and peace more than anything else. General Haftar is also a candidate, as are several politicians like former interior minister Fathi Bashagha, former prime minister Ali Zeidan, and current prime minister of the GNU Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah the HoR leader Aguila Saleh. All the candidates have been accused of corruption or war crimes. That provides the UN with an opportunity to justify blocking any or all of these candidates. The UN wants the elections to go forward and has been informed by major UN contributors who their preferences are and that means the election has already been decided, except for the formality of voting.

This means the UN is willing to go ahead with the Libya elections even if it is certain that civil war will continue. The Turks have exploited this by seeking, and finding allies in Europe. The Turks do this by making concessions in Syria and with the Arab world in general. Turkey has a good relationship with Iran, which is at war with all Arab states that resist Iranian domination. Russia wants to protect its economic opportunities in Libya and is not happy with how the Turks disrupted that by accepting an GNA bribe in 2019 and intervening militarily, with Arab mercenaries and some Turkish troops, to halt the LNA final offensive. The LNA still controls most of Libya and the oil.

The Kingmaker

The UN appears to have a veto on which Libyans can run for president and is trying to block any candidate that might disrupt the effort to create the kind of government the major UN contributors prefer. This outcome would be unpopular with most Libyans and the Arab world in general but this sort of thing is nothing new.

December 1, 2021: Officials from the GNA and HoR are protesting corruption and foreign interference in the voting process. Voters who had earlier registered complained that when they showed up to get their voting card, which entitles them to vote, they were told that someone else had already picked up their card. Candidates are being rejected and then not allowed to appeal as the rules require. There are complaints about the interim GNU deciding to move the vote for members of parliament to January, while insisting the December 24 vote, which now just elects a president, will proceed. There are already complaints about the UN and foreign powers seeking to block presidential candidates who are popular in Libya but not willing to cooperate with the UN, Russia and Turkey. Then there are questions of just what powers does the president have. This was supposed to be sorted out by the new parliament, which now won’t exist until at least a month after a president is selected. Libya is a notoriously corrupt place and the locals can detect a scam when they encounter one.

November 16, 2021: The latest Annual Transparency International Corruption results were published today. This one contained some bad news for Libya. One of the major problems is the Libyan inability to clean up its own massive internal corruption. In 2018 there was some progress, driven by the increasing poverty caused by years of civil war. That has since reversed as the UN backs the Islamic factions. In 2020 Libya ranked 173 out of 180 nations in a worldwide survey of corruption. In 2018 it was 170 out of 180. That’s up from 175 in 2017 and 170 out of 176 countries in 2016. Progress, or lack thereof, can be seen in the annual Transparency International Corruption Perception Index where countries are measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. Libya’s current score is 17, down from 21 in 2021, as Libya began trying to form a new, democratic government. The nations with the lowest score are currently Syria, South Sudan and Somalia with scores of 14 or 15. The least corrupt nations are currently Denmark and New Zealand, each with a score of 88.

November 15, 2021: Because of declines in Nigerian production in October , Libya became the largest oil producer in Africa, with 1.24 million BPD (barrels per day). Nigerian production fell by nearly 40 percent in the last 18 months to 1.23 million BPD. During the first three months of 2020 Nigerian oil production reached two million BPD. Daily production in 2019 was 2.32 million BPD, up from 2018 (2.09 million BPD) and 2017 (2.03 million BPD). For 2020 production was expected to be a little lower (2.18 million BPD) to allow for needed oil field rehabilitation work to proceed. Those predictions did not consider covid19 and subsequent lower demand worldwide. Normally the largest producers in Africa are Nigeria, Angola and Libya. Angola suffers from some of the same corruption and internal violence problems as Nigeria and for October is in third place behind Libya and Nigeria.

Given the investments in oil production, mainly by foreign companies, Nigeria can produce 4 million BPD. That has not happened. The reasons are continuing problems with oil theft gangs and repair/maintenance backlogs, especially of the pipelines, in the Niger River Delta. Then there are the decades of government inability to deal with these problems. That led to a growing number of foreign oil companies selling their Nigerian assets and going elsewhere. In effect, it is more profitable to do business in other countries.

November 13, 2021: Turkey rejected France’s request that all foreign powers remove their forces from Libya.

November 12, 2021: France hosted an International Conference for Libya that was sponsored by the UN. Participants included Algeria, Britain, Chad, China, Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Jordan, Kuwait, Malta, Morocco, the Netherlands, Niger, Qatar, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey, UAE (United Arab Emirates), the United States of America, the African Union, the European Union, the Arab League and the Sahel Group of Five. There was agreement that the elections must go forward and not much else.

November 10, 2021: A Russian military delegation visited Tripoli to develop a relationship with the commander of the leader of the western military forces. Technically this means the GNU forces but the LNA refused to cooperate because the UN demanded that Haftar submit to a commander selected by the UN. The Russians wanted to see for themselves what was going on in Tripoli

November 6, 2021: In Tripoli another clash between rival militias left a civilian bystander dead. These clashes in the capital are the main source of casualties during periods of relative peace in the rest of Libya.

October 27, 2021: Libya’s fate could be decided by an election in Turkey. The current government there is in big trouble over economic mismanagement, corruption and expensive foreign wars in Syria and Libya. No Turkish soldiers have died in Libya so far in 2021 while 21 Turkish soldiers have been killed in Syria and another 73 wounded. President Erdogan is being challenged by a coalition of opposition parties who want to remove him as the Turkish president before 2023 elections and shot down the foreign wars. Sending Turkish troops to Syria in 2016 and Libya three years later were unpopular moves for most Turks. Erdogan has been in power since 2003 and one of the first things he did was to get parliament to approve increasing the power of the presidency. Seemed like a good idea at the time, but this made it possible for Erdogan to send Turkish troops quickly and quietly into Syria and Libya. Erdogan believed these decisive actions would increase his popularity. It did not because as more Turkish soldiers were killed in Syria and the cost of the five years of Turkish operations in Syria mounted, so did public anger whenever a Turkish soldier was killed or badly wounded. There have been about a thousand casualties among Turkish troops in Syria since 2016 and over 200 of them were fatal. Government controlled or influenced media in Turkey have been ordered to play down the deaths and the well-attended funerals but this bad news eventually gets out, despite efforts to crack down on Internet-based treason (anti-government messages). Opinion polls show most voters want to oust the current government during the next (2023) national elections, where the voting will be for the president and members of parliament. The new political effort to remove Erdogan is made possible by his reluctance to bring Turkish troops home. Erdogan has hired over 20,000 Syrian Arabs as mercenaries to do most of the ground combat and the cost of payroll and medical care (and death benefits) has been an economic scandal in Turkey.

 

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