Libya’s future in balance in UN-backed leadership vote

Delegates from Libya’s opposing sides kicked off a five-day meeting on Monday to choose an interim prime minister and a three-person presidency council in a bid to reunite the troubled oil-rich country before an election in December.

The Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, including envoys from around Libya, was meeting under U.N. mediation in an undisclosed site outside Geneva in hopes of stabilizing the North African country that has been largely lawless since Moammar Gadhafi’s fall and killing in 2011.

The voting process is taking place under the mediation of the U.N. secretary-general’s acting special representative for Libya, Stephanie Williams. The interim authority to be chosen will seek to rebuild state institutions and lead Libya to a national election on Dec. 24. A list of possible candidates has already been agreed upon.

“Reaching this far and achieving this progress in the political dialogue has been an arduous journey fraught with challenges,” Williams told the gathering Monday. “Indeed, a year ago, this would not have been possible.”

The warring factions also agreed that a national referendum would be held on constitutional arrangements, laying the legal groundwork for the December vote.

Since Gadhafi’s ouster, Libya has been in turmoil and split between rival administrations in the east and west — each backed by an array of militias and foreign powers.

The 75-member forum represents the three main regions of old Libya: Tripolitania in the west, Cyrenaica in the east, and Fezzan in the southwest — each to be represented on the three-member presidential council. The prime minister is to be chosen by the candidate winning 70% of votes.

Twenty-four candidates are running for the presidential council posts. They include Aguila Saleh, speaker of the east-based House of Representatives, and Khaled al-Meshri, the head of the Tripoli-based government’s Supreme Council of State.

Libya’s top judge, Mohammed al-Hafi’s candidacy for the presidential council has stirred up controversy. The country’s Judges’ Association decried the move, saying he should have retired before running,

Twenty-one candidates are running for prime minister, including Fathi Bashaga, the powerful interior minister in Tripoli, and Ahmed Meitig, deputy prime minister of the U.N.-supported government.

There are only three women among the 41 candidates: One for the presidential council from the western region and two for the prime minister’s post, both from Tripolitania and Fezzan.

Bashaga, a front-runner, said the transitional government should be a national unity one that brings all Libyans together without discrimination.