On 8 September, the House of Representatives (House) unilaterally passed an electoral law which is designed to ensure that presidential elections are held on 24 December 2021. It immediately sent its decision to the United Nations and asked it to recognise it as the final and authoritative legal framework for the elections. The document provided specific details — including on how they should be conducted; who will be eligible to vote; and requirements for the candidates, etc — and also seeks to ensure that there will be a strong presidential system.
The House’s last-minute effort to make progress with the law — despite its previous obstructionism — appears to be designed to ensure that its speaker, Aguila Saleh, remains in control of the process and that he and his supporters retain power and influence in any post-election arrangement. By waiting until the final hour to pass the law, Saleh was clearly also trying to force the hand of UN Special Envoy Ján Kubiš. Much will now depend on how UN member states react and how Libya’s leading political figures will position themselves in the coming days. Already, however, the High Council of State (HCS) — which legally is supposed to prepare the laws with the House — has issued a strongly worded objection. By contrast the High National Election Commission (HNEC) appears to have formally ‘received’ and therefore accepted the new law. It is therefore obvious that, regardless of any international support for the House, its latest action has already exacerbated domestic tensions.
Kubiš addressed the UN Security Council in a 10 September video briefing in which he warned that failing to hold presidential and parliamentary elections this year could exacerbate divisions and thwart efforts to unite Libya after a decade of turmoil. He appears to have naively accepted the House’s decision. On 12 September the main Western embassies issued a joint statement which, while not specifically endorsing it, once again called for ‘inclusive, free and fair” parliamentary and presidential elections to take place on 24 December.