Will Elections Be Enough for Libya’s Stability?


Libya’s political conflicts are far too complicated to be resolved by elections — a comprehensive strategy is needed to bring peace, according to a report prepared by the United States Institute of Peace.

Last week, the Security Council met to discuss the UN Support Mission’s (UNSMIL) work, and its latest plan to end the country’s political impasse through elections.

While credible polls will be a critical step in forging a path to peace, they are not a panacea for addressing this byzantine conflict’s deeply rooted drivers, and the intense, bitter rivalries and factionalism that have surfaced since 2011. Indeed, previous efforts to hold elections have buckled under the weight of the intricate dynamics at play.

Over a decade after the fall of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, resolving Libya’s complex conflict will require a multifaceted approach that prioritizes building trust among Libyans.

With the UN Envoy to Libya Abdoulaye Bathily recently announcing a new initiative to hold elections, it is critical to consider the undercurrents — beyond electoral processes — that must be navigated, the roles of national Libyan institutions in mitigating the country’s intense polarization, and how the international community can help.

The complexity of Libya’s conflict is exacerbated by regional and local conflicts among various tribes and armed groups, and narratives of marginalization. This convoluted interplay generates a self-perpetuating cycle of conflict and violence.

What makes this worse is the role of the numerous foreign powers that interfere in Libya to advance their own interests. The relentless involvement of foreign countries in supporting various factions has transformed the conflict into a convoluted proxy war.

These powers — driven by strategic, economic, and geopolitical motivations — exacerbate the situation by supplying weapons, financial aid, and even mercenaries to their Libyan allies.

As a result, the quest for peace and stability has become ever more elusive, leaving the Libyan people to bear the brunt of a conflict that seems to have no end in sight.

These are issues that elections — no matter how credible and transparent — cannot overcome alone. Libya’s rival factions need to come together and agree on a political settlement that addresses the root causes of the conflict.

This settlement should provide a framework for the division of power and resources — and a plan for decentralizing power. Promoting reconciliation to redress grievances and injustices is also imperative.

These are processes that will take time, concerted effort, and political will. To even begin to set Libya on a path to a peaceful and stable future, it is vital to build trust among Libyans and enhance the legitimacy of national institutions.

In February 2023, the Libyan Presidential Council convened a national dialogue with over 80 representatives from diverse Libyan factions. They identified five issues that must be addressed to achieve national reconciliation: identity, security, transitional justice, decentralization, and local governance.

The Deputy Head of Libya’s Presidential Council, Abdullah Al-Lafi, has said that this effort can complement the UN’s latest elections plan, with Bathily expressing his support for the Libyan-led endeavour.

Ending Libya’s political impasse requires a holistic strategy, of which elections are only one component.

Tackling underlying conflict drivers and bolstering the Presidential Council’s efforts to overcome polarization are critical steps toward achieving a durable peace. The international community can play a pivotal role by providing resources and expertise. In the end, though, Libyans themselves will have to forge a path to peace.