As Libya continues to reel under the brunt of division that left it with three governments, namely the Government of National Accord (GNC), the interim Libyan government and the rescue government formed by the General National Congress, it remains unclear when elections will next be held in the country. To identify the most important challenges facing the High National Elections Commission (HNEC), which was formed to complete the electoral process called for by UN envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame, Al-Monitor interviewed elections commission head Emad al-Sayeh on April 1, the day Libya closed registration of overseas voters. Sayeh explained the challenges facing the commission and showed how political differences, division and the multiplicity of governments could affect the electoral process in Libya.
Salame had called for presidential and parliamentary elections and a constitutional referendum by the end of this year in order to unify the ruling institutions in Libya.
The text of the phone interview follows:
Al-Monitor: Would it be better to hold the legislative or the presidential elections first? Why?
Sayeh: I think it would be better to hold the parliamentary elections first so that the executive power could keep preparing for the presidential elections. Holding the parliamentary elections first will ensure the continuation of the current government, which is helping the HNEC prepare for the presidential elections.
Al-Monitor: Are there any foreign or internal parties obstructing the elections?
Sayeh: There are countries that have interests in Libya. And while there are countries that support the holding of the elections, others just don’t. International interference is linked to interests, and it certainly affects the electoral process in Libya.
Al-Monitor: What are the main challenges facing the HNEC?
Sayeh: Lack of funding is the main challenge facing the HNEC. We have considerable difficulty obtaining the necessary funds for the elections to be held this year. Without funding, the HNEC’s plans will not be implemented. The presidential council of the internationally recognized GNC finances the HNEC. But this council includes several members, each of whom has a different viewpoint on the electoral process in Libya. This very divergence of views within the council obstructs the funding process.
Al-Monitor: What measures have been taken by the HNEC to fight electoral fraud?
Sayeh: For the HNEC, accepting the electoral results is an important factor, so we must protect the electoral process against any appeals by fighting electoral fraud. We are seeking to resort to technological means in the polling mechanism in order to limit human interference.
Al-Monitor: Why did you say that refraining from holding the elections would eventually lead to splits?
Sayeh: That’s true. Not holding the elections would only lead to deeper division in Libya. Political splits would surface at all levels. If the Libyan elections are not held this year, then the Libyan political scene in 2019 would witness political divisions and splits.
Al-Monitor: But splits could surface and armed confrontations could erupt as soon as political parties object to the results of the elections to be held.
Sayeh: The international community and the United Nations must oblige all parties to accept the results, and whoever has an objection in this regard must resort to the judiciary.
Al-Monitor: Have any local or international bodies declared their desire to monitor the elections? Are you facing problems in this regard?
Sayeh: Parliament has not issued an electoral law yet. Once we have an electoral law, we will invite all international institutions to monitor the process and we will start accepting requests from local organizations wishing to do so. The local organizations suffer from poor performance and lack of expertise, so the role of the international organizations would be to train these organizations. But the HNEC has no objection to any monitoring, and we will take all the necessary measures to ensure that the elections are transparent.
Al-Monitor: Do you think that the participation of the military elements in the Libyan armed forces led by Gen. Khalifa Hifter in the voting process would raise doubts about the neutrality of the elections, especially as these members will be responsible for establishing security during the elections?
Sayeh: Such argument would prevent any statesman from participating in the electoral process. It is an exclusionary argument. Every Libyan citizen has the right to vote regardless of the job they have. And it is only when military men wish to run in the elections that they must resign.
Al-Monitor: Is there a timetable for the constitutional referendum and the presidential and parliamentary elections?
Sayeh: There is no timetable because no law has been issued yet, but as a commission we want the electoral law to be issued in September so we get enough time to prepare for the electoral process.
Al-Monitor: Is there some kind of coordination between the HNEC and the conflicting Libyan parties, such as the GNC, the interim Libyan government, the Libyan armed forces and the parliament?
Sayeh: There is high-level coordination with the GNC, and there is constant communication with its Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. There is also coordination with the interim government, the Libyan armed forces and the parliament.
Al-Monitor: Does the political dispute in Libya affect the work of the HNEC?
Sayeh: It definitely does. And the most important result of this dispute is the weak funding plaguing the HNEC, especially considering that it is an independent institution.
Al-Monitor: How do the elections affect the current situation?
Sayeh: All the Libyan parties outside the authorities support the political elections. The Libyan community needs the elections, and the evidence is the high number of people who registered on the electoral roll. Libyan citizens feel these elections are a way out of the Libyan crisis.
Sayeh: We did not expect such a strong turnout. We were expecting only half a million, but this is an indication that Libyans are ready to strongly take part in the electoral process as voters and candidates.
Al-Monitor: What guarantees are in place to ensure the integrity of the elections abroad?
Sayeh: The Libyan community abroad is limited, and only about 6,000 voters have registered on the current electoral roll, but the HNEC’s duty is to secure a voting mechanism across the Libyan embassies. We will be applying the same mechanisms both at home and abroad in order to ensure the integrity of the electoral process.