Libya’s electoral body has barred Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of the late dictator, from contesting the oil-rich north African state’s upcoming election, citing his previous convictions for crimes.
Gaddafi, who made his first public appearance in years last week when he submitted his papers for the presidency, was one of 25 candidates who were disqualified from competing in next month’s poll for a variety of reasons. He can appeal the electoral commission’s decision.
Once considered a successor to his father, Muammer Gaddafi, the 49-year-old had been out of view since a 2011 popular uprising, backed by Nato air strikes, toppled the late dictator’s regime. The younger Gaddafi, who had championed himself as a moderniser, railed against the revolution, brandishing a machine gun, warning that the country would descend into civil war and vowing that the regime would never surrender.
He was captured by an armed group in the western city of Zintan, and four years later a Tripoli court sentenced him to death in absentia for war crimes committed during the uprising. He was released in 2017 but is still sought by the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity.
However, analysts said he would have garnered support during the elections from some disaffected Libyans tired of a decade of chaos and violence, and supporters of the old regime or “greens”.
Analysts said it was unlikely that Gaddafi’s disqualification would stoke fresh instability, pointing out that he had no armed base.
“As far as I understand, Saif’s entourage is rather cool-headed and my impression is that they contemplate the possibility he will be disbarred, but they aren’t ready to take arms or anything against this, and are ready to throw support behind other candidates,” said Claudia Gazzini, senior analyst at the Crisis Group.
The UN and western nations are pinning their hopes on the December 24 presidential vote, and later parliamentary poll, to help unify the country after years of conflict and chaos that left the nation divided into a patchwork of fiefdoms.
Prominent candidates include Abdul Hamid Debeibeh, the prime minister of the interim government and one of the country’s richest men, and Khalifa Haftar, a military strongman whose forces control much of eastern Libya. Haftar triggered a civil war in 2019 that drew in regional powers after he launched an offensive against a weak UN-backed government in Tripoli.
That conflict eased last year after Turkey intervened militarily to support the Tripoli-based government, causing Haftar to suffer a series of defeats. But the country remains awash with powerful militias and a myriad foreign mercenaries, including fighters from Russia, Syria, Sudan and Chad.
The lead-up to the election has been marred by disputes and complaints about the process. Gazzini said tensions could be stoked as an appeal process begins under which any “interested party” can seek to get a candidate disqualified.
“The major concern in terms of setbacks and potential upheaval is in this next phase, if we see a Haftar elimination or if we see Debeibeh being kicked out, but the odds of that happening are very low,” she added.
Tim Eaton, a Libya expert at Chatham House, said the international communities’ approach towards Haftar had been “quite pragmatic” amid concerns that his exclusion would risk a return to violence.
“The belief is he has to be allowed to run, and could be marginalised if he loses,” Eaton said. “The argument is that excluding someone who has control of a large part of the country is not going to give the new government the remit it would require.”