In Libya, anger and uncertainty after the postponement of the elections | News from Khalifa Haftar

Libyans reacted with a mixture of anger and desperation after authorities announced the postponement of a crucial presidential election originally scheduled for Friday.

The electoral commission suggested on Wednesday that the vote – aimed at ending a decade of chaos in the country – be postponed by a month, due to a lack of preparation and disagreements between different political forces on the legal basis of the ballot.

Mohammed al-Wafi, a resident of the capital, Tripoli, did not hide his dismay when he said the Libyan people were “thirsty” for the elections.

“We refuse to postpone the elections. I am talking about the opinion of the whole Libyan street. We, citizens of the south [region], support the holding of the elections on time, frankly, ”said al-Wafi.

The electoral council suggested postponing the vote by a month to January 24, but given the animosity between the eastern parliament and the authorities in Tripoli, agreeing on a new date will be far from easy.

Some 2.5 million Libyans had recovered their voter cards, out of a population of seven million.

But the vote was complicated by a growing rift between rival leaders who emerged in the east and west of the country in the wake of the NATO-backed uprising that toppled longtime leader Muammar. Gaddafi in 2011.

To begin with, there is President Aguila Saleh’s insistence that Libya first conduct a presidential vote before parliamentary elections can take place.

Critics argue that Saleh, who heads the eastern-based House of Representatives and runs for president, sees the vote as a contest for the winner.

It’s a prospect that has unsettled many Tripoli residents, including Ahmed Baiyed, who said the vote could have resulted in a president whose powers would be ambiguous in the absence of a constitution.

“I am happy that the presidential elections are not taking place. To hold an election, you have to have a foundation. Our foundation is a constitution, ”Baiyed told Al Jazeera.

“If we don’t have a constitution that identifies the type of system of government we have and the powers of a president, how can we vote for a president? “

This was a view shared by Othman al-Amari, who regretted that parliament had not been able to deliver on its promises after many years in power.

“We must first organize legislative elections, then presidential elections,” he said. “Parliament has been in power for several years and they have done nothing.

And then there were disagreements over who should be allowed to run for office.

The three most prominent candidates – Khalifa Haftar, Saif al-Islam Gadhafi and Abdul Hamid Dbeibah – were also the three most controversial.

Haftar was unacceptable to many in western Libya after his 2019-20 assault on Tripoli that destroyed parts of the capital. Gaddafi, the son of the former leader, was found guilty of war crimes by a court in Tripoli and is hated by many who fought in the 2011 uprising.

Dbeibah, the acting prime minister, had promised when he took over that post that he would not stand for election. His continued work as Prime Minister in the run-up to the vote has led many of his rivals to say he has an unfair advantage.

Disappointed hopes

This delay is another setback in Libya’s interminable transition, after 42 years of one-man rule and a decade of civil war.

The era under Muammar Gaddafi from 1969 to 2011 was marked by brutal repression, but Libyans benefited from a generous welfare system funded by revenues from Africa’s largest oil reserves.

But the revolt that toppled Gaddafi turned into a complex war involving mercenaries and foreign powers. The country’s infrastructure and economy have steadily deteriorated, with power cuts and soaring inflation becoming the norm.

In Tripoli, Dbeibah’s interim government is working to sign reconstruction contracts and revive the city, heavily damaged by the Haftar attack in 2019-2020.

Were all these efforts in vain?

Businessman Ibrahim Ali-Bek thinks the war could easily resume.

If so, “normal citizens will pay the price,” he said.

Across the country, in Benghazi, cradle of the uprising against Gaddafi, residents are facing similar problems.

Engineer Mohamed El-Jadi says he took part in the uprising in the hope of “more freedom and prosperity”.

El-Jadi said he was disappointed by the delay in the elections.

“Our standard of living has fallen, our wages have not changed despite inflation and we live in an unstable environment,” he said.

“The main actors in the conflict, who for the most part then decided to run for office, knew they had little chance of winning. That’s why they disturbed him, ”he said.

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