Libya – An interview with Presidential Candidate Fathi Bachagha

Libya finds itself at a paradigmatic shift, in the weeks to come. Presidential and Legislative elections are scheduled and are being organized to begin in a few short weeks from now. If organized successfully, the presidential elections will be the first such event in Libya’s contemporary history.

While some see that successful elections could contribute to an end of the conflict in Libya, others still point out that an absence of a constitutional basis in the nation, as well as the absence of consensus on whether a majority of Libyans will recognize elections and their results or not, are pointedly problematic issues. 

Therefore, what prospects can be expected for Libya, a country in the depths of crisis? Former Interior Minister and Presidential Candidate Fathi Bachagha answered our questions on Libya’s current and possible future prospects.

Mr Bachagha, first of all, are we clear today about whether Libya will organize presidential or legislative elections first? 

Presidential and Legislative elections will happen simultaneously. And I can only insist that it is important that they are organized together. The situation in Libya is difficult and sensitive and the crisis generated a situation of general mistrust amongst Libyans. This added considerably to Libya’s problems. 

Political divisions and the situation of war that Libya has been through during the last years also had an important impact: these two key factors ended up creating a difficult context that makes it important for new elections to be organized on a safe and healthy basis. As I stated, this can only be guaranteed by the organization of the Presidential and the Legislative elections simultaneously.

Some oppose the law on presidential elections that has been issued by the House of Representatives. Where do you stand on this question?

From my point of view, this law has been issued and is official now. Add to this that I see nothing that I would deem irrational in it. In any case, we all know that the problems that arose with the publication of this law are political rather than legal.

This is why I don’t see any problem in both the form and the content of the law. And if anybody wants to challenge this aspect of things, there are legal means and clear standards that allow them to do so.

Can elections actually solve Libya’s problems?

The situation in Libya is tumultuous because of the divisions that prevail at the national level and because of war and its consequences. Nothing new here, this has been prevailing during the last ten years more or less. Divisions and wars created a bad state of play that is characterized by the weakness and the fragility of the State. This also explains why Libya has suffered from weak governance since the war.

Among the many obstacles that Libya continues to face, institutional rivalry is one of the most problematic. It provides an explanation as to why we continue to have a weak state. The state in Libya has suffered the consequences for an accumulation of political, security, and developmental problems, which provoked further fragmentation in return.

This same structural weakness also explains why state structures turned into lazy institutions. Taking strong and important decisions on issues that are meant to help guarantee stability turned out to be impossible.

This is why there can be no solution in Libya as long as the political scene is fragmented: sovereignty matters need to be resolved. And elections will help doing that.

Elections build on a legitimacy that citizens guarantee thanks to their vote: this is why elections will keep being a strong incentive that will also boost the performance of the coming institutions. Elections offer a context that is different from prior situations where the government was issued from an agreement between the parties of the conflict or their international backers.

In any case, whoever would like to challenge this point of view and oppose the organization of these elections can do so. But they need to use legitimate tools and arguments for that.

From your point of view, what are the main obstacles to the organization of elections in Libya?  

The role of the spoilers that oppose the organization of these elections is probably one of the most problematic issues. Some of these people can be found amongst the ruling elite or the general political class, or within the current government and its institutions directly. But if they happen to act that way, it is because their prime interest is their power and positions: they seek favouring their own interests over the overall good.

That said, at the international level, we can find a wide consensus on the necessity of organizing elections in Libya. Many of the countries that are interfering in Libya also see it important that elections be organized without delay. This is very encouraging. Libyan political forces that are attached to the organization of elections must take opportunity of this support and use it to have elections organized on time. As I said before, this is crucial for guaranteeing Libya’s stability.  

Do the main political entities in Libya agree on the necessity of organizing elections on time? 

There are many political groups and entities, as well as political parties, that see it important to organize elections: they believe that they are an important step towards bringing a solution to Libya’s problems and putting an end to the ongoing crisis and clash of legitimacies.  

So, if we understand you well, elections have to be organized on time?

It is not possible to postpone elections. They will be organized on time, and we will have proof of this very soon. There are clear instructions as well as clear means that have been put forward by the High National Election Commission on dates and deadlines. And political leaders must stand ready rather than to try and create obstacles. Elections will happen, and the Presidential and the Legislative tracks will be organized simultaneously.

Any message that you want to address to Libyans?

Libya is promised a bright future. If political stability is achieved, this will have very positive results on the country. We want elections to put an end to the several political crises that our country is going through. This means putting an end to conflicts, wars, and negative polarization.

This interview has been conducted by journalist and researcher Mohammed Sreit.

(Note: This interview is the first in a series of similar talks that aim at reflecting on where some key political representatives from different horizons stand from the situation in Libya, a country which evolutions are key on a national and a regional level as well as for European countries).