Libya’s transitional government on Sunday postponed the first national election since the ouster of former leader Muammar Qaddafi, changing it to July 7 from the previous date of Tuesday next week.
The announcement is official confirmation of an open secret: Libya’s transitional authorities have not yet completed the list of candidates or other arrangements for the election. Voter registration is behind schedule and officials of the interim government have hinted for weeks that they could not fulfill their promise of a vote by June 19.
Voters will choose a national assembly, whose members will govern while drafting a new constitution. Libyans are hoping an elected government will have the legitimacy to control the rival militias that have established competing fiefs around the country and in the capital, Tripoli, sometimes battling one another, hunting down suspected Qaddafi loyalists to exact vengeance or even kidnapping foreign journalists and government officials.
It is unclear whether the interim authorities can enforce the stability required to hold a free and fair vote by the new deadline. Disputes over the distribution of delegates have aggravated deep-seated regional tensions. Some districts, including the city of Bani Walid and certain neighborhoods of the capital, remain hostile to the new authorities, if not loyal to Qaddafi. Militias have already displaced members of tribal and ethnic groups considered loyal to Qaddafi, forcing them into refugee camps and raising questions about their voting rights as well.
In the latest evidence of lawlessness, Libyan officials acknowledged over the weekend that a local militia whose members have held captive one of Qaddafi’s sons, Saif al-Islam, in the city of Zintan had also detained four staff members of the International Criminal Court (ICC) without further explanation. The group, which was detained on Thursday, includes a court-appointed defense lawyer — an Australian citizen — a translator, a citizen of Lebanon and two other court officials — a former Russian diplomat and a Spanish lawyer.
Libyan authorities have rebuffed requests by the court to turn Saif al-Islam Qaddafi over for trial in The Hague on war crimes charges. A court spokesman in The Hague, Fadi el-Abdallah, said in a telephone interview that no explanation or details had been given about the detention.
“The four ICC staff members continue in illegal detention,” he said. “We’ve lost all contact with them since Thursday and they are held incommunicado. We have had contacts with the Libyan authorities in Tripoli to request their release.”
He said the four were visiting Zintan to carry out an order by the court’s judges “to arrange for a confidential meeting between the lawyer and the suspect. Such a meeting would include the right to exchange or discuss relevant documents.”