Tripoli – Libyans have voiced a mix of frustration and anxiety after elections set for Friday were postponed, which some had hoped would help turn the page on a decade of violence.
After weeks of speculation, authorities confirmed on Wednesday that the poll, part of a United Nations-led peace process, would be delayed.
“I had picked up my voting card and I was waiting for the election,” said trader Nabil al-Sharef, sat at a cafe in Tripoli, the capital in the west.
“For me, this delay is a setback and a disappointment,” the 51-year-old said.
The poll was meant to take place just over a year after a landmark east-west ceasefire.
But the run-up to the North African country’s first-ever presidential election has been overshadowed by angry disputes over its legal basis and the candidacies of several controversial figures.
The electoral board has suggested pushing the vote back by a month to January 24, but given the animosity between the eastern-based parliament and authorities in Tripoli, agreeing a new date will be far from easy.
The delay will be a disappointment to some 2.5 million Libyans who had collected their voter cards, out of a population of seven million.
But for Sharef, the situation could get a lot worse.
“I’m waiting for the war to break out again, because each faction only serves its own interests, and the people who were against the elections are backed by armed groups,” he said.
Parliament ‘main obstacle’
That would be a sobering prospect for a country that had seen a year and a half of relative calm, since western-based armed groups defeated an offensive by eastern-based military chief Khalifa Haftar to seize Tripoli.
Following a formal ceasefire and a UN-led dialogue process, a transitional government was formed to lead the country to elections.
But tensions between armed groups and institutions remain.
In September, the speaker of the eastern-based parliament elected in 2014 unilaterally passed an elections law ready-made for a presidential bid by Haftar – a law later endorsed by UN envoy Jan Kubis.
For many observers, the law was a key obstacle to the elections taking place on time.
“The main obstacle to the elections is the parliament,” said Mohamad Treish, a phone company employee.
The delay is another setback in Libya’s interminable transition, after 42 years of dictatorship and a decade of civil war.
The rule of Moamer Kadhafi from 1969-2011 was marked by brutal repression, but Libyans did benefit from a generous welfare system paid for by revenues from Africa’s biggest oil reserves.
But the revolt that toppled Gaddafi turned into a complex war dragging in mercenaries and foreign powers, and the country’s infrastructure and economy steadily degraded.
Electricity cuts and runaway inflation have become the norm.
Revolutionary hopes dashed
In Tripoli, the interim government of Abdulhamid Dbeibah has been working to sign reconstruction contracts and revive the city, heavily damaged by Haftar’s 2019-2020 attack.
Were those efforts all in vain?
Businessman Ibrahim Ali-Bek believes war could easily break out again.
If it does, “normal citizens will pay the price,” he said.
At the other end of the country in Benghazi, the birthplace of the uprising against Gaddafi, residents face similar problems.
Engineer Mohamed El-Jadi says he took part in the revolution in the hope of “more freedom and prosperity”.
El-Jadi said he was disappointed by the delay to the elections.
“Our standard of living has dropped, our salaries haven’t changed despite inflation and we’re living in an unstable environment,” he said.
“The main players in the conflict, who mostly then decided to stand in the elections, knew they had little chance of winning. That’s why they disrupted it,” he said.
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