File photo Image Credit: AP

The United Nations has warned of renewed tension, and potentially the return of military conflict, in Libya following the postponement of the long-awaited presidential elections, originally scheduled to begin today (Friday).

Libya has been living in a fragile state of calm following the October 2020 ceasefire, which relatively ended a 10-year-old civil war. But the postponement of the election threatens to shatter the shallow quiet.

Media reports indicate that tension in the capital Tripoli is already building and armed militias have begun erecting sand and concrete barriers to mark territories they control.

The Libyan parliament on Wednesday said the presidential election scheduled for December 24 has been postponed. A statement said the polls would be delayed for a month, leaving both the ceasefire deal and the fate of the interim government in doubt. The Electoral Commission said the election process had run into trouble because “the rules were inadequate to handle appeals and disputes over eligibility” to run in the polls.

The UN mission to Libya warned that developments in Tripoli following the collapse of the electoral process were worrying and threatening stability. “The current mobilisation of forces affiliated with different groups creates tensions and increases the risk of clashes that could spiral into conflict,” it said in a statement.

“Any disagreements on emerging political or military matters should be resolved through dialogue, particularly at this stage when the country is navigating through a difficult and complex electoral process that should usher in a peaceful transition.”

The United States also called for calm following the election delay announcement. “Now is not the time for unilateral actions or armed deployments that risk escalation,” the US embassy in Tripoli said in a statement.

Armed militia, especially those allied with Islamist groups, with heavy armed presence in the capital, may be tempted to take control of vital quarters of the city in anticipation for renewed clashes. These militia thrive in the absence of law and order. Chaos is good for their illegal trade — oil, weapons and drugs.

Moreover, the delay means the end of the landmark 2020 peace deal. That may also mean the end of the road map, charted by the UN, to reunite the country and start a viable political process to ultimately end the state of war.

Therefore, calm and dialogue among key political groups are a must to rescue the process. The Libyan people, who bore the brunt of the collapse of the entire system, cannot bear the return of the absurd war and the reign of terror.