BENGHAZI – Libya's top electoral body on Wednesday disqualified the son and onetime heir apparent of the late dictator Moammar Gadhafi from running for president in elections to be held next month, citing his previous convictions.
The name of Seif al-Islam Gadhafi appeared on a list of ineligible candidates issued by the country's High National Elections Committee. He can appeal the decision in court in the coming days.
Seif al-Islam had been sentenced to death by a Tripoli court in 2015 for using violence against protesters in a 2011 uprising against his father, but that ruling has since been called into question by Libya's rival authorities. He is also wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity related to the uprising.
Libya is set to hold the first round of presidential elections on Dec. 24, after years of U.N.-led attempts to usher in a more democratic future and end the country’s civil war. Adding to the concerns surrounding the election, the U.N.'s top envoy for Libya submitted his resignation last week, though he said Wednesday he is prepared to stay on through the vote if needed.
Following the 2011 overthrow and killing of Moammar Gadhafi, oil-rich Libya spent most of the last decade split between rival governments — one based in the capital, Tripoli, and the other in the eastern part of the country. Each side in the civil war has also had the support of mercenaries and foreign forces from Turkey, Russia and Syria and other regional powers.
The son of Libya's former dictator submitted his candidacy papers in the southern town of Sabha on Nov. 14. It was the first time in years that the 49-year-old, who earned a PhD at the London School of Economics, appeared in public.
He had been captured by fighters in the town of Zintan late in 2011, as the uprising ended his father's rule after 40 years. Seif al-Islam was released in June 2017.
The announcement of his possible candidacy stirred controversy across the divided country, where a number of other high-profile candidates have also emerged in recent weeks. Among them are powerful military commander Khalifa Hifter and the country's interim prime minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah.
The long-awaited vote still faces challenges, including unresolved issues over laws governing the elections, and occasional infighting among armed groups. Other obstacles include the deep rift that remains between the country’s east and west and the presence of thousands of foreign fighters and troops.
Meanwhile, U.N. envoy Jan Kubis submitted his resignation last week, though it didn't become public until Tuesday.
The Geneva-based diplomat serves as both special envoy for Libya and head of the U.N. political mission in the country. He told the Security Council on Wednesday that he is leaving to facilitate a change he considers vital: moving the mission chief's job to Tripoli to be on the ground at a high-stakes moment for Libya.
The idea divided the council during discussions in September. Western countries embraced it; Russia rejected it.
Kubis added that he was ready to continue as special envoy through the election, though he said the U.N. had accepted his resignation with a Dec. 10 effective date.
Asked about the discrepancy, U.N. spokesperson Farhan Haq said the organization would "continue to work with him while we’re seeking a successor.”
The job was open for nearly a year before being filled by Kubis, a former Slovak foreign minister and U.N. official in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Security Council emphasized the importance of the upcoming election Wednesday, urging an “inclusive and consultative electoral process,” warning against violence and disinformation and calling for Libyans to accept the results of the vote.
Libyan Ambassador Taher El Sonni said his country appreciates “all international initiatives with genuine intentions,” but he said the council’s members need “to heed us, too” and let Libyans lead their own way out of crisis.
“You have a moral responsibility towards the developments in my country over the past 10 years,” he told the group. “Don’t belittle us.”
Associated Press writer Jennifer Peltz contributed from New York.