Libya’s interim prime minister has registered as a presidential candidate, joining a bulky and growing list of candidates that includes Saif-al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of the former dictator Muammar Gaddafi, and Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, a warlord.
Abdul Hamid Dbeibah’s decision to run in the 24 December poll breaks a pledge that current holders of office in the interim government would not seek election so as not to abuse their position.
Dheibah was the frontrunner in polls undertaken in August and has used his office to dispense largesse, including 372 economic and infrastructure projects all over the country, under the umbrella of “Return to life”. The programme has been especially directed at young people but has created a network of patronage from which he can draw in an election.
His supporters say a previous pledge not to run, made on television to a UN body, was qualified.
Next month’s vote is already turning into something akin to a circus with 62 candidates – all male but one – putting their names forward, including Gaddafi, who is seeking to make a dynastic comeback, and Haftar, strong in the east, who mounted a deadly but ultimately unsuccessful assault on the capital, Tripoli, in 2019.
Gaddafi’s right to stand has been challenged by the Libyan military, a claim that will be resolved in courts and by the High National Electoral Commission. The international criminal court also has an outstanding arrest warrant against Gadaffi on two counts of crimes against humanity.
Dbeibah, a Misrata-based businessman, has been surrounded by his own corruption allegations and his candidacy may yet be challenged on the basis it may breach article 12 of the electoral law, which requires candidates to stand down from public office three months before the election.
While there are some serious figures determined to try to reconcile the country, the danger is that the divided electorates in the east and west are going to back partisan candidates that support their region or tribe.
The legitimacy of the process will be challenged by factions if key figures are banned from standing. Social media is also full of allegations that various candidates are vehicles for foreign countries, notably Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Israel.
Many of the candidates are expected to pull out closer to the planned polling day in deals designed to win them later public office, or a seat in parliament.
Parliamentary elections are likely to be held at the same time and more than 1,000 have applied.
Arguments over the distribution of resources and the use of identity politics to fuel division lay at the heart of the country’s decade-long crisis, the Libyan foreign minister, Najla el Mangoush, told a weekend conference in Bahrain organised by the IISS, a London thinktank.
She warned that some political figures “feed on fear, demonising the other, defining people according to ‘us versus them’ to instigate the conflict.”.
She spoke of “decades of poor education under the Gaddafi era in which Libyans were not informed of their history, and they were not able to establish a national identity”, adding: “In doing so, generations have suffered from intellectual as well as historical and religious gaps, which affected their identity, making them easy prey for extreme identity politics.”
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