Political tension and chronic insecurity are casting doubts over Libya's ability to complete its transition to democracy, two years after the fall of dictator Moamer Kadhafi.
After more than 40 years under Kadhafi, Libya held its first free elections in July 2012 to choose the General National Congress (GNC), the country’s highest political authority.
It must now choose an assembly to draft a new constitution, but militias left over from the 2011 uprising, who control much of the country, bitter political infighting and threats to boycott the upcoming vote could derail the process.
The electoral commission recently said it had started preparing for a vote and was accepting nominations for candidates, but gave no date for when it would happen.
The GNC was given an 18-month mandate to guide Libya towards general elections after the drafting of a new constitution, which was to set out the country’s new political order.
According to the “constitutional declaration” — a provisional document put in place after the uprising against Kadhafi ended — the GNC’s mandate is due to expire in February.
But a spokesman for the body recently suggested it might extend the deadline for it to complete its task.
“The length of the GNC’s term is determined by its work and is not limited by time,” the spokesman said, citing the findings of a parliamentary commission.
But the suggestion has caused unease among some politicians and jurists. Lawyer Azza Maghour said that if the GNC extends its term in power “it will lose much of its legitimacy.”
Some parties have rejected any move to prolong the GNC’s life, fearing a loss of legitimacy could push Libya into further turmoil, particularly if militias linked to some parties try to take power by force.
The liberal National Forces Alliance, the main grouping in the Congress, has “rejected the prolongation of the GNC’s mandate,” calling for a “clear roadmap to end the transitional period. “
Liberals and Islamists, the country’s second major political force, have also accused one another of blocking the road to democracy and attempting to seize power for themselves.
The constitutional commission is to be made up of 60 members and is modelled on the committee that drafted the country’s charter in 1951.
As then, the new body will have 20 members from each of the country’s three regions — Tripolitania in the west, Cyrenaica in the east and Fezzan in the south.
Minorities threaten boycott
But insecurity is not the only threat to the polls, as demands from minorities in Libya could also upset proceedings.
The Tubu, Berber and Tuareg minorities have said they would boycott elections, as they will only have six seats out of 60 on the constitutional committee, in which they want their languages, cultural and ethnic rights to be included.
“We are still keeping up our demands to the GNC to adopt ways to allow minorities to have their voices heard in the electoral commission,” the head of the Libyan Berber Council, Nouri Chaoui, told AFP.
And in the country’s east, supporters of greater autonomy for Cyrenaica are refusing to budge on their demands for a federal state.
In August, they made their third call for a federal Libya, and have now been joined by tribal groups from Fezzan in the south, who also want greater autonomy.
Faced with these persistent political and security problems, the electoral commission has been working to make sure the vote can go ahead safely.
“We are in touch with the government, which promised to take the necessary measures to assure security and a smooth election,” commission head Nuri al-Abbar told AFP.
Despite the problems facing Libya’s transition, the head of the United Nations Support Mission to Libya, Tarek Mitri, was upbeat about the country’s progress.
“Despite enormous challenges, Libya continues to make progress on its own roadmap,” he said in a statement.
“The process of drafting a new constitution represents an opportunity for the Libyan people to forge a new social contract that will govern the new Libya.”