By John Irish
PARIS (Reuters) – The eldest son of eastern Libyan strong man Khalifa Haftar said on Monday he was open to a presidential bid, but cautioned that nationwide elections in the OPEC member could only occur if the country was stable and a new unified government was in place.
Libya has had little peace or security since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising and it split in 2014 between warring eastern and western factions. Though major warfare paused after a 2020 ceasefire, there is little trust between the main factional leaders.
Many Libyans suspect their political leaders have little interest in a lasting settlement or elections that could oust them from positions of authority that they have held for years.
Elseddik Haftar, who unlike his 79-year-old father has no military responsibilities, has increasingly nurtured his public and social media image amid uncertainty over whether his father still intends to run for the presidency in the future.
Speaking in an interview, Elseddik, 43, defended his family’s role in the country and sought to portray himself as representing Libya’s younger generation.
“I think I have all the means to relieve and stabilise Libya, and put in place the cohesion and unity of Libyans,” he said in Paris speaking through an interpreter.
When asked whether he would be a candidate in any future presidential election, he said that it would all depend on conditions at the time, but wanted to be clear that if he did run he would represent all Libyans.
“If the Libyans see that I can add value, change things … then why not?”
Before presidential elections can take place, the United Nations is pushing for nationwide legislative elections. It indicated on Aug. 22 that before any such move there first need to be a unified government, agreed by all major players, to lead the country to elections.
Libya’s internationally recognised Government of National Unity (GNU) in Tripoli, led by Abdulhamid Dbeibah, has not been accepted by the eastern-based parliament since early 2021 after a failed attempt to have national elections.
Haftar said he did not have a “personal” issue with the existing government, but there needed to be a new government of technocrats in place with a clear mission to prepare elections.
“We can’t have elections with the Dbeibah government. It’s impossible,” he said, adding that he didn’t oppose the current electoral laws waiting to be endorsed by parliament.
The dangers of Libya’s unresolved conflict were apparent last month when armed factions battled in Tripoli, killing 55 people in the worst fighting there in years.
Haftar said there could be no elections without the security situation being stabilised across the country.
“If there is no stability, elections will not be free,” he said.
(Reporting by John Irish, Editing by William Maclean)