The Libyan Electoral College has banned Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of the late dictator, from running in the upcoming elections of the oil-rich North African country, citing his previous conviction for crimes.
Gaddafi, who made his first public appearance in years last week when he presented his papers for the presidency, was one of 25 candidates disqualified from competing in next month’s elections for a variety of reasons. He has the right to appeal the decision of the Electoral Commission.
The 49-year-old, formerly considered a successor to his father Muammar Gaddafi, has been out of sight since the 2011 popular uprising, backed by NATO air strikes, that toppled the late dictator’s regime. The young Gaddafi, who defended himself as an innovator, lashed out at the revolution, waving a machine gun, warning that the country would be dragged into civil war and vowing that the regime would never surrender.
He was arrested by an armed group in the western city of Zintan, and four years later a court in Tripoli sentenced him to death in absentia for war crimes during the uprising. He was released in 2017 but is still wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.
However, analysts said that during the elections he would have won the support of some disaffected Libyans fed up with a decade of chaos and violence, and supporters of the old regime or “the Greens”.
Analysts said it was unlikely that Gaddafi’s removal would lead to new instability, noting that he had no armed base.
“As far as I understand Saif’s retinue is somewhat emotional and my impression is that they are considering the possibility of his removal, but they are not willing to take up arms or anything against that, and are willing to lend support behind others,” said Claudia Gazzini, Senior Analyst at Crisis Group.
The United Nations and Western countries pin their hopes on the December 24 presidential election, and subsequent parliamentary elections, to help unite the country after years of conflict and chaos that left the nation divided into a patchwork of fiefdoms.
Among the leading candidates are Abdel Hamid Dabaiba, prime minister of the interim government and one of the country’s richest men, and Khalifa Haftar, the military strongman whose forces control much of eastern Libya. Haftar sparked a civil war in 2019 that drew in regional powers after he launched an offensive against a weak UN-backed government in Tripoli.
That conflict eased last year after Turkey intervened militarily to support the Tripoli-based government, causing Haftar to suffer a series of defeats. But the country is still teeming with powerful militias and countless foreign mercenaries, including fighters from Russia, Syria, Sudan and Chad.
The run-up to the elections was marred by disputes and complaints about the process. Gazini said tensions could be inflamed with the start of an appeals process under which any “interested party” could seek to disqualify a candidate.
She added, “The main concern is about possible setbacks and disturbances in this next stage, if we see the elimination of Haftar or if we see the expulsion of Dabaiba, but the odds of this happening are very low.”
Tim Eaton, an expert on Libya at Chatham House, said the international communities’ approach to Haftar has been “very pragmatic” amid concerns that his removal could risk a return to violence.
“The belief that he should be allowed to run, and can be sidelined if he loses,” Eaton said. “The argument is that removing someone who controls a large part of the country will not give the new government the powers it would require.”