The House of Representatives (House) failed to complete its debate on amending the draft presidential election law. Its discussions focused on two central issues that impact the head of the Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF), Khalifa Haftar: whether a candidate can be a dual national; have a criminal record; or hold an active military position. The deadlock in the UN-led Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) mean that the House is now is now the centre of efforts to come up with a legal framework for the December 2021 elections.
There is a reasonable chance that the House will pass the necessary legal framework to allow parliamentary and direct presidential elections to take place on time, bypassing consultation from both the LPDF and the High Council of State (HCS). If it does so, it will be because its speaker, Aguila Saleh, has decided that it is in his political interest. So far, he and the House have deliberately delayed the approval of a legal basis for the elections. Now, with that the parliament is in the driver’s seat, Saleh is acting to ensure that the process proceeds so he and his supporters retain their power in any new political arrangement. With the UN Special Envoy, Ján Kubiš, apparently having given up on the LPDF and now supportive of the House’s leading role, Saleh arguably has an opportunity to do so. This also means, however, that the election-preparation process is now once again beholden to Libya’s self-interested status quo politicians. On the other hand, it is hard to envision a way in which Saleh could become president because of the intense opposition to him in western Libya.
Nevertheless, most Libyans want elections in December in order to end the uncertainty of the country’s long transitional period. By 2 August over 2.5 million had already registered to vote and the registration period has been extended until 17 August.
The LPDF is also not out of the picture yet. Last week, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) announced that it will facilitate a virtual meeting of the body on 11 August to consider the deliberations of the Bridging Committee which has issued four proposals for the electoral framework following several meetings in recent weeks.
On 3 August, the GNU submitted a new budget to the House but increased rather than reduced expenditure. Therefore, the House — which has already rejected seven previous versions of the budget — forwarded it to its Finance Committee rather than debating it.
Media reports suggest that Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah and Khalifa Haftar had reached a secret agreement under which the GNU will transfer LD1 billion (US$222 million) to the LAAF in return for the House’s approval of the budget. Haftar reportedly demanded LD6 billion (US$1,332 million) but settled for an initial US$222 million followed by a further US$444 million in two instalments. Unconfirmed reports also suggest that the deal included power-sharing provisions that would guarantee Haftar’s continuing influence in the east. The agreements were reportedly brokered by Egypt through an intermediary, Ahmed Sharkasi, who is also Dbeibah’s son-in-law.
It is, however, difficult to see how the House would suddenly reverse its previous public stance that the GNU’s budget is too large for an interim government but now accept an even bigger one. Haftar’s financial problems are very real but it is unclear if this alone will persuade the House to budge. The answer may lie in a backroom deal that may have been struck between Haftar and Aguila Saleh who have met on several occasions in recent weeks. Haftar is, however, a potential rival of Saleh for the presidency, and continuing to block the budget may, in the latter’s calculation, be a way to side-line both Haftar and Dbeibah.