A court in Libya has said Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, a son of Libya’s overthrown dictator, can run for president, adding to the uncertainty and chaos surrounding the forthcoming poll.
Last week, the electoral commission disqualified him from the December 24 election that western governments hope will unite a fragmented country. On Thursday, the court in Sebha, in southern Libya, accepted Gaddafi’s appeal against his exclusion from the race, according to multiple reports citing his lawyer.
The electoral commission had declared Gaddafi ineligible because he had been convicted of a crime. He was sentenced to death in 2015 in absentia by a court in Tripoli for war crimes during the 2011 uprising in which his father, Muammer Gaddafi, was overthrown and later killed.
The junior Gaddafi was captured in 2011 by a militia from the northwestern town of Zintan and held captive there until 2017, when he was freed. He is still wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity during attempts by the former regime to suppress the Nato-backed uprising.
For many years his father’s heir apparent, Gaddafi cultivated the image of a moderniser who wanted to bring human rights to Libya. But when protests erupted in 2011, he warned of rivers of blood and was filmed brandishing a machine gun and vowing to crush insurgents.
The UN and western governments hope the elections will help turn a corner in a country where militias have held sway for most of the past decade and foreign governments have engaged in proxy wars by sending arms and mercenaries. Some 98 candidates have registered for the poll, but the electoral commission disqualified 25 last week, including Gaddafi.
Analysts say Gaddafi has appeal among those nostalgic for stability after a decade of chaos and lawlessness. He also has a natural constituency among certain tribes and regions which benefited under his father. He is, however, a polarising figure who is hated by many of those who rose up in 2011. Powerful militias in western Libya have rejected his candidacy. Some even reportedly blockaded the Sebha court this week to prevent consideration of his appeal.
Other prominent candidates include Khalifa Haftar, the strongman who controls eastern Libya and who launched in 2019 an ultimately-failed military offensive to capture Tripoli in the west, and seize control of the country. Another candidate is Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, prime minister of the Government of National Unity. His candidacy is in breach of a pledge he made not to run as a condition for heading the GNU whose main task was to prepare the election. A court in Tripoli rejected several appeals to disqualify him.
Analysts say there is still uncertainty the election will be held on time and some have warned it could trigger further turmoil if the results are not accepted by the losers.