CAIRO -- Libyan lawmakers met Monday to discuss the myriad challenges that forced a postponement of the long-awaited presidential election this month. The postponement was a major blow to international efforts to end a decade of chaos in the oil-rich North African country.
The vote has faced many obstacles, including controversial presidential hopefuls, disputes over laws governing the elections, occasional infighting among armed groups, and the long-running rift between the country’s east and west.
The parliament, based in the the eastern city of Tobruk, convened to decide on a proposal by Libya’s election commission to hold the vote on Jan. 24. Under the proposal, the presidential election would be followed by parliamentary elections a month later, on Feb. 15.
Abdullah Bliheg, spokesman for the legislature, said lawmakers would discuss the election commission's efforts to hold the vote. Lawmakers also deliberated a parliament report on the challenges that forced the vote postponement.
Late Monday, Bliheg said the parliament has decided to summon Imad al-Sayeh, head the election commission, and other board members to discuss the commission's report on the electoral process.
Stephanie Williams, U.N. special adviser on Libya, implored lawmakers to “urgently address” challenges leveled by the High National Elections Commission and “to push the electoral process forward.”
A few dozen people protested outside the parliament’s headquarters in Tobruk, calling for holding the vote as soon as possible. They held placards with slogans including: “The Libyan people reject the election postponement.”
The legislative committee tasked with monitoring the electoral process recommended rewriting the constitution in coordination with the Tripoli-based Supreme Council of State. It suggested drawing a “practical roadmap” for elections without setting specific dates, according to the committee's report released to lawmakers Monday.
Libya's nationwide elections have for a year been the lynchpin of U.N.-mediated efforts to bring peace to the oil-rich North African nation.
Other key obstacles on the road to balloting are a long-running rift between the country’s east and west and the presence of thousands of foreign fighters and troops supporting either side.
The failure to hold the vote last Friday fueled concerns that Libya could again slide into a major outbreak of fighting amid growing tensions, especially in western Libya, where lawless armed groups have greater influence.
Libya plunged into turmoil after a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed.
In recent years, the country has been split between rival governments: One in the east, backed by military commander Khalifa Hifter, and a U.N.-supported administration in the capital of Tripoli in the west. Each side is supported by different militias and foreign powers.
A looming political vacuum is another threat, with some lawmakers arguing that the mandate of the interim government ended Dec. 24, the day the vote had been scheduled.
Suliman al-Harrari, head of the parliament’s internal affairs committee, told Fawasel, a media website, that the legislature would deliberate whether the interim government could remain at the helm until the vote takes place.
The legislative committee, which declared last week that holding the vote on Dec. 24 would be impossible, also called for restructuring the executive authority to “achieve stability requirements," which it said the current government failed to do. It did not elaborate.
Major Western governments, however, have called for the government to remain in power until the vote is held to avoid chaos and confusion.
“The transfer of power from the current interim executive authority to the new executive authority shall take place following the announcement of the results of such early and prompt parliamentary and presidential elections,” a joint statement from the U.S, U.K., France, Germany and Italy said Friday.
The parliament on Monday decided to vote Tuesday on declaring Caroline Hurndall, U.K. ambassador to Libya, persona non grata after the embassy posted a message on Twitter saying it would continue recognizing the interim government, “the authority tasked with leading Libya to elections and does not endorse the establishment of parallel governments or institutions.”
The embassy comments caused outrage in Libya, with the parliament's foreign affairs committee accused Hurndall of unwarranted interference. Some tribal leaders have demanded the ambassador be expelled.
The government — a three-member Presidential Council and a Cabinet headed by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah — was appointed earlier this year, with the task of leading the nation through the Dec. 24 vote.
Dbeibah had also announced his bid to run for president.