The head of Libya’s High National Electoral Commission (HNEC) has ordered the dissolution of the electoral committees nationwide, in a move that effectively postpones this week’s presidential election.
A leaked internal statement by Imad al-Sayeh dated December 20 outlined six points, chiefly “the disbandment of electoral regional and local branch offices and committees”. A member of the HNEC’s board of directors on Tuesday confirmed the authenticity of the document.
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There has been no comment yet from Libya’s President Mohammad Younes Menfi, who is in Cairo for a meeting with his Egyptian counterpart, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
Al Jazeera’s Malik Traina, reporting from Tripoli, said growing tensions in recent weeks within the country’s political and security apparatus had cast doubt on whether the December 24 election would proceed as planned. Some observers have said they expected the polls to be postponed, but officials have shied away from making such an announcement.
“This is the first official sign that the elections are not going to be going through,” Traina said of the HNEC’s document.
“The head of the electoral commission has ordered for the electoral committees and the administrative offices to go back to their positions before the elections as if the elections aren’t going to happen,” he added.
“Basically what this means is that he’s told the temporary workers and the administrators in the polling stations to stop their work, to put away all the election equipment.”
Earlier on Tuesday, presidential candidates met in Benghazi to discuss the failing electoral process, as rival armed groups mobilised in Tripoli. The armed groups closed roads in the south of the capital using piles of sandbags.
Images circulating online showed pickup trucks carrying machine guns close to the University of Tripoli in Fornaj district.
Jamila Rizgalla, a professor at the university, told AFP news agency that “teachers, staff and students were asked to evacuate the campus and leave immediately. Lectures were interrupted and the university was closed due to security tensions” in Ain Zara and Fornaj districts.
Up in the air
Days before Friday’s polls, the election was already up in the air, with no official list of candidates presented to the public and no formal campaigning under way.
Disputes about fundamental rules governing the election have continued throughout the process, including over the voting timetable, a controversial election law issued in September by the parliament speaker, the eligibility of the main candidates and the eventual powers of the next president and parliament.
Earlier this month, the High State Council (HSC) called for the presidential election to be delayed to February. The advisory body, which was created through a 2015 peace agreement but is not recognised by all other Libyan political entities, called for the delay in a statement less than three weeks before the vote.
Days later, Libya’s election commission said it would not publish a list of presidential candidates until it settled some legal issues, leaving almost no time to hold the vote as planned.
The United Nations-backed plan envisaged the election as a way to end disputes about the legitimacy of Libya’s rival political bodies, formed during earlier transitional periods following the 2011 revolution that overthrew Muammar Gaddafi.
Some Libyans have feared the disputes about the current election process could trigger a similar crisis to that surrounding the 2014 vote, when Libya split between warring western and eastern factions with parallel administrations in Tripoli and Benghazi.
Laws issued in September and October by House of Representatives Speaker Aguila Saleh, a presidential candidate, set a first-round presidential vote for December 24 but delayed the parliamentary vote.
Saleh’s critics had accused him of issuing the laws without a quorum or a proper vote in parliament and after intimidating some members. Saleh and his allies have denied wrongdoing and said the laws were passed properly.
Significant delays could increase the risk of derailing the wider peace process in Libya, though a disputed election conducted without clear agreement on rules or eligible candidates also would pose immediate dangers to stability.