May 22, 2018 / 3:46 PM / a month ago

Former PM says Libya risks partition if it rushes to elections

CAIRO (Reuters) - Libya is too divided to hold elections and risks partition if it goes ahead with a vote without security guarantees and a national consensus on building a state, a former rebel prime minister said on Tuesday.

Libyan former interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril talks during an interview with Reuters in Cairo, Egypt May 22, 2018. REUTERS/Aidan Lewis

Mahmoud Jibril, who led the National Transitional Council during the uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi after more than four decades in power, said a U.N.-endorsed target of holding national polls by the end of the year was unrealistic.

“The country is still not ready. More unity is needed, more consensus is needed,” Jibril said in an interview from his base in Cairo.

“To go for elections when the country is so divided – we are exposing the country to real partition.”

Jibril, 65, a U.S.-trained consultant, headed an economic reform body under Gaddafi from 2007 before siding with rebels in the 2011 uprising. He served as interim prime minister for about seven months, lobbying successfully for the NATO air campaign that provided the rebels with crucial support.

But he says the electoral success of his National Forces Alliance (NFA) was sabotaged by armed groups who have held the real power in Tripoli since the uprising, storming government buildings and abducting officials to enforce their will.

In 2012 the NFA won the most votes, though Jibril lost a parliamentary contest to become prime minister. In new elections two years later party lists were banned and the result of the vote was disputed, leading to rival parliaments and governments being set up in Tripoli and the east.

SECURITY VACUUM

A security vacuum allowed militants and migrant smugglers to flourish, as competing alliances backed by rival regional powers battled for political power and control of Libya’s oil wealth.

Factions based in the east and aligned with Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) have rejected a U.N.-backed interim government in Tripoli. The LNA is now battling opponents in the far eastern city of Derna.

Jibril said that before any new elections, written commitments to accept election results must be obtained and Libyan and international authorities need to show they can ensure the outcome is respected — something currently impossible due to the lack of national security forces or an effective judiciary.

“If those conditions are not met I don’t think we can participate, because that means we are exposing ourselves to a third round of disappointment, a third round of unfulfilled dreams,” he said.

Jibril said the numbers reported in a recent round of voter registration had been inflated with fake names, and that these irregularities also needed to be addressed urgently, though he did not offer evidence. He said “very drastic, structural economic changes” were needed, including a reduction of Libya’s huge public salary bill.

Jibril spoke a day after U.N. Libya envoy Ghassan Salame told the U.N. Security Council that he had given up trying to amend a stalled 2015 peace deal and was instead focusing on holding elections this year.

Salame is also promoting a series of meetings to try to foster political discussion and consensus, which Jibril said could potentially produce a national charter for reuniting the country and rebuilding a properly functioning state.

On Tuesday Libya’s neighbours warned that security there could deteriorate further in the absence of any progress towards a political solution.

“Any delay for the resolution of the Libyan crisis could open the way for further escalation, violence, terrorism and conflicts,” the foreign ministers of Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia said in a joint statement.

Additional reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed in Algiers; Editing by Gareth Jones

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