Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of longtime Libyan dictator Mummar Gaddafi, has been disqualified from running for president in December’s planned election, a move expected to compound turmoil surrounding the vote in Libya.
Gaddafi was among 25 candidates declared ineligible to participate in the race by Libya’s election commission on Wednesday. The initial decision is pending an appeals process that will ultimately be decided by the judiciary. There were 98 Libyans who had registered to run.
Disputes over the election rules, including the legal basis of the vote and who should be eligible to stand, threaten to derail an internationally backed peace process aimed at ending a decade of factional chaos and violence.
The commission said Gaddafi was disqualified because he had been convicted of a crime. A Tripoli court sentenced him to death in absentia in 2015 for overseeing war crimes during the uprising against his late father in 2011.
The court confirmed the final convictions after a trial by videolink as Gaddafi was held in the city of Zintan by militia fighters who captured him while trying to flee the country after his father’s fall. The 49-year-old has denied any wrongdoing.
“Saif’s candidacy was always something of a wildcard, so it’s hoped that disqualifying him will help calm an outraged response that threatened to derail the process without disrupting the ongoing electoral process too much,” said Tarek Megerisi, a senior policy fellow and Libya expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
The election rules, including the vote’s legal basis and eligibility of candidates, further fuel the political bickering among Libyan rivals as many suggest the whole process is unfair and favours certain political factions over others.
“The whole vetting process seems to have been quite highly politicised – like much else in this election – so it doesn’t come as a surprise,” Megerisi told The Independent.
Political rivals accused the commission of applying double standards as it disqualified prominent candidates, such as former prime minister Ali Zeidan and parliament speaker Nouri Abusahmain for possible violations committed by other accepted candidates.
Zeidan, for example, was excluded on basis of his dual nationality. However, the commission accepted the application of eastern commander Khalifa Haftar who was said to have American citizenship. Many in western Libya also accuse Haftar of war crimes committed by his forces during the 2019-20 war on Tripoli.
Haftar denies he oversaw war crimes and has repeatedly said that he is not an US citizen.
The commission has also accepted Interim Prime Minister Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah’s bid to run. Dbeibah had previously vowed not to run for the presidency as a condition of taking his current role. But he didn’t resign three months before the vote as is required by contested election law.
Libya’s election commission didn’t respond to The Independent’s request for comment on the criticism. The Libyan interim premier’s office could not immediately be reached for comment.
Dbeibah has dismissed the election rules as “flawed”. The rules were initially issued in September by the parliament speaker Aguila Saleh, who is also a candidate.
The outgoing UN Libya envoy Jan Kubis told the UN Security Council on Wednesday that Libya’s judiciary would make the final decision on the rules and on whether candidates were eligible.
Analysts say excluding Gaddafi’s may help ease tensions in Libya but will not put an end to his political ambitions. For now, his supporters might look for other candidates to back.
“Symbolically, Saif is back,” Megerisi said. “He will try – and probably fail – to rally his father’s followers, and a lot of the old guard will now be wooed by other political camps. “