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Libya’s Election in Doubt

Libya is close to postponing an election planned for Dec. 24 over several legal challenges.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Ramadan Abu Jnah speaks.
Ramadan Abu Jnah speaks.
Ramadan Abu Jnah, interim head of Libya’s government, speaks in Tripoli, Libya, on Dec. 12. Mahmad Turkia/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Libya’s presidential election plans hang by a thread amid legal disputes, U.S. President Joe Biden issues first North Korea sanctions, and Malta plans to legalize marijuana consumption.

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Libya’s Presidential Election in Doubt 

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Libya’s presidential election plans hang by a thread amid legal disputes, U.S. President Joe Biden issues first North Korea sanctions, and Malta plans to legalize marijuana consumption.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Libya’s Presidential Election in Doubt 

The internationally backed plan for Libya’s presidential election is in danger of falling apart after electoral officials announced a delay in publishing the final candidate list amid legal disputes, making a planned vote on Dec. 24 increasingly unlikely.

The near-collapse of Libya’s political transition was foreshadowed on Nov. 23, when Jan Kubis, the United Nations special envoy for Libya, abruptly resigned his post less than a year into the job. His position was only filled after nine months of negotiations between U.N. Security Council powers following the resignation of Kubis’s predecessor, Ghassan Salamé, in March 2020.

Legal challenges over eligibility still hang over several candidates, with militia leader Khalifa Haftar and political leader Saif al-Islam al-Qaddafi—the son of former Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi—both accused of war crimes.

Ramadan Abu Jnah, Libya’s interim head of government, sought to allay fears over a postponement. The government has spared no effort to support the electoral commission, Abu Jnah said. We have the chance to make Dec. 24 a historic day.

Whether the election goes ahead on time or not is mostly a moot point, Jason Pack, author of Libya and the Global Enduring Disorder, told Foreign Policy, with global powers still divided on how to approach the country. “The election is a sideshow,” he said. “The only reason the election exists is an international attempt to punt the problem and create someone to deal with.”

For Pack, the election process was tainted at its inception, when the Libyan House of Representatives, led by Aguila Saleh Issa, wrote the rules. “The election does exactly what it was supposed to do from the perspective of those powers like Russia and their Libyan allies. All the Russians wanted to achieve was chaos and to not achieve [the United Nations Support Mission in Libya’s] initial goal of getting Aguila Saleh out,” Pack said.

One bright spot, Pack said, is the appointment of Stephanie Williams as U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres’s new U.N. special advisor on Libya. Williams, an American, recently served as the acting special representative and head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya. “She’s going to try and smash some heads together, but we don’t know what powers the member states are going to give her,” Pack said.


What We’re Following Today

EU hosts Armenia and Azerbaijan leaders. European Council President Charles Michel will host a meeting between Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev today in Brussels ahead of a European Union summit with countries to its immediate east on Wednesday. The meeting comes as Armenia and Azerbaijan continue to exchange fire along their shared border, violating the terms of a shaky cease-fire agreement. A statement from the Armenian Ministry of Defence on Dec. 10 said one of its soldiers was killed and more wounded “as a result of offensive operations carried out by the Azeri forces.”

Malta goes green. Malta is set to become the first country in Europe to legalize marijuana for general consumption today as its parliament considers a government-backed measure. Malta has beaten Luxembourg, Germany, and the Netherlands—all considering similar moves in the new year—to the milestone. The bill’s likely passage means Malta is set to join Mexico as the second country to legalize the drug in 2021. Malta’s vote also comes after a U.N. body removed cannabis from its list of most dangerous drugs this time last year.


Keep an Eye On

U.S.-North Korea tensions. U.S. President Joe Biden imposed sanctions on North Korea for the first time since taking office on Monday, targeting the country’s government-run animation studio as well as its public prosecutor’s office. The sanctions were part of a package issued to mark Human Rights Day and included those alleged to have committed human rights abuses in Myanmar and Xinjiang, China.

Germany-Russia ties. Germany has warned Russia that any military action in Ukraine would jeopardize the operation of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, currently under consideration by German regulators. “In the event of further escalation, this gas pipeline could not come into service,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told German media on Monday. Her comments follow those made by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who said his country would “do anything” to ensure Ukraine remains a transit point for Russian gas exports to Europe, a position under threat by the new Russian pipeline.

Tunisia’s political transition. Tunisian President Kais Saied extended the suspension of parliament until December 2022 and announced a new referendum on political reform in a public address on Monday. The referendum is set to take place on July 25, 2022 following a period of public consultation between January and March 2022. New parliamentary elections will now take place on Dec. 17, 2022—12 years to the day when Tunisian fruit seller Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in protest, igniting the Arab Spring.


Odds and Ends

A dispute between two Brazilian politicians came to blows over the weekend in what could be considered a deterioration or improvement on Brazil’s political tensions, depending on your reading of history. Simão Peixoto, the mayor of Borba in northern Brazil, entered a mixed martial arts fighting ring to accept a challenge from a former councillor.

Erineu da Silva had challenged Peixoto to a fight in September, accusing the mayor of failing to save a local waterpark. The fight’s inconclusive ending is unlikely to finish the feud: The conservative mayor won on points, an outcome da Silva’s side immediately disputed.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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