Anger as UN chief tries to break Libyan political deadlock to elections

Anger as UN chief tries to break Libyan political deadlock to elections
Incoming UNSMIL head Abdoulaye Bathily has been tasked with challenge of unlocking Libya's electoral processes this year.
3 min read
14 March, 2023
House Speaker Aguila Saleh said Bathily's comments 'expose his ignorance' [Getty images]

Libya's new UN chief Abdoulaye Bathily is at loggerheads with key power players in the country after launching a fresh drive to have stalled general elections to take place this year.  

The speaker of the east-based House of Representatives, Aguila Saleh, responded in a curt fashion to Bathily's comments on Sunday, questioning the continued legitimacy of existing Libyan legislatures. 

Saleh accused Bathily of "overreaching his power" during an interview on the news channel Al-Masar, which is aligned with east-based warlord Khalifa Haftar, after the UN chief described the eastern parliament as having an "expired mandate". 

"Bathily's comments expose his ignorance of Libya's constitutional provisions and political agreements," the parliamentary leader said. 

The power of the House of Representatives "continues until rescinded constitutionally - which is yet to happen", according to Saleh. 

Abdoulaye Bathily joined the UN special mission in Libya (UNSMIL) in October last year, tasked with reviving the country's broken electoral processes. 

Bathily had spoken of his eagerness to meet with Speaker Aguila Saleh in the coming days, having met Haftar over the weekend. 

But Bathily's declaration that the legitimacy of the Tobruk parliament was null and void and asking them to present themselves in front of Libyans in fresh elections has angered politicians from the east of the country, which is dominated by Haftar's forces.

Libya's House of Representatives was elected in 2014, on a very low turnout and its legitimacy has been questioned by politicians based in Tripoli.

Live Story

Bathily’s roadmap

The UN is once again attempting to unite Libya's disparate factions and establish mutually-agreed electoral processes to end the country's political deadlock. 

"There is no reason for any more delays," said Bathily, the UNSMIL chief, during his recent round of visits to local Libyan leaders at the weekend. 

"For the last decade, Libya has remained a regional and international playground." 

Bathily believes that a clear roadmap for the elections can be established by mid-June "if all Libyan leaders, including Saleh and [head of the Tripoli-based High Council of State Khaled] al-Mishri, are working to break the cycle of Libyan political crises". 

But his efforts appear to have already been rebuffed by Saleh. 

"The UN does not rule Libya," said the speaker on Libyan television, denying the special mission any right to "form political bodies" that could chart a path forward to elections.