Gaddafi-era loyalists to play key role in Libya’s upcoming elections

Candidates will need to secure votes from pro-Gaddafi regime to win in polls slated for December.

Gaddafi-era loyalists to play key role in Libya’s upcoming elections

The release from prison this week of the son of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is a sign that Libya is headed toward profound changes beyond the current conflict.

Al-Saadi al-Gaddafi, 48, who was accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, was acquitted and released Sunday. 

The Presidential Council announced that "the recent releases of political prisoners in Libya come within the framework of national reconciliation," which was officially launched Sept. 6.

The statement asserts that the release took place within a political context but was given a "judicial" character, which drops all charges against him, and restores his political rights, including the right to run for elections, especially since the Presidential Council implicitly described him as a "political prisoner." 

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi and the presidential race

Gaddafi’s release indicates that national reconciliation may affect his brother, Saif al-Islam. According to the Africa Gate News outlet, which is known for being close to Said al-Islam, he will run for the presidency in the election slated for Dec. 24.

Notably, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, was sentenced to death on charges related to war crimes and crimes against humanity by a court in Tripoli and an arrest warrant was issued by the Military Prosecutor on Aug. 5. He is also wanted by the International Criminal Court on similar charges. But the criminal court has not yet issued its verdict which means that the position is more political than legal.

Hence, a presidential pardon or acquittal as a "political opponent" would open the doors for Gaddafi to run in the race.

Meanwhile, there are countries topped by Russia, that are pressing in favor of Gaddafi's son's candidacy for the presidency and the return to power of the former regime.  

Electoral competition

Despite the spirit of national reconciliation that currently prevails, the western camp, especially in Misrata, wants to prevent renegade Gen. Khalifa Haftar from getting support from the pro-Gaddafi stream in the upcoming election.

Haftar, Gaddafi and former Interior Minister in the Government of National Accord, Fathi Bashagha, are the most prominent names for candidacy.

If Gaddafi’s son is unable to run, competition will be limited to Haftar and Bashagha, who hails from Misrata, the most powerful military camp and most influential in the western region.

Given the fact that Gaddafi's supporters constitute a weighty electoral bloc that can favor any party, competition to win the support of the group is rising between Haftar and Bashagha.

In September, Haftar's militia revealed the truth about the assassination of Brig. Gen. Masoud al-Dhawi, one of the most prominent military leaders of the Warshafana tribe in western Libya that is loyal to Gaddafi’s son and allied with Haftar.

Al-Dhawi was killed May 23, 2019, during the aggression on the capital of Tripoli.  

This was the demand of the Warshafana tribe two years ago, although Haftar’s militia claimed in 2019 that al-Dhawi was killed on the battlefield, before recently recounting a completely different account that included the confessions of one of the participants in the assassination, confirming that the orders came from Mohsen Al-Kani, a field commander in the pro-Haftar Kaniyat militia.

Regardless, the main goal of revealing the circumstances and the names of the eight killers involved is to ensure the support of the Warshafana tribe for Haftar in the upcoming elections.

But Bashaga responded by receiving a delegation from the Qadhadhfa tribe in Misrata and agreeing to hand over the remains of Muammar Gaddafi, his son Mutassim and former defense minister in the Gaddafi regime, Abu Bakr Younis al-Majbri.

Gaddafi’s remains are expected to be buried in the Haftar's militia-controlled city of Sirte, which is on the frontlines with army forces. Preventing the burial of Gaddafi's remains there will strain Haftar’s relations with supporters of the former regime and may lose their support for him in the elections.

As for the approval of the burial, Gaddafi's supporters will flock to Sirte from all sides, which will weaken the control of Haftar's militias over the city.

The race for the presidency was launched, albeit unofficially, between three main currents, but Haftar and Bashagha are trying to win votes of supporters of the former regime, if they ascend to the second round of elections, the conduct of which is still in doubt.

But if Saif al-Islam runs for president, it will confuse the rules of the game and change the nature of alliances. The logic of politics says there is no permanent enemy, nor permanent friend, but there are permanent interests.