By Ahmed Elumami and Angus McDowall
TRIPOLI – The U.S. ambassador to Libya said on Tuesday that it could be possible to hold national elections without resolving a standoff between two rival governments and that a mechanism to oversee spending could help with governance for an interim period.
A scheduled election planned for December last year collapsed amid disputes over the rules. Although the parliament has appointed a new government, the one installed last year through a U.N.-backed process refuses to step down.
Libyans fear the crisis will derail efforts to get the elections back on track and could return the country to territorial partition and civil war.
The ambassador, Richard Norland, told Reuters in an interview that while he was optimistic that Geneva talks this week could resolve the impasse, there were ways to move forward without a single Libyan government.
Factions that dominated different parts of the country could separately lead those areas toward a national election.
“The reality of the Libyan political scene is that no single actor can produce an outcome. The only formula that’s going to work is for the key actors to get together and negotiate a compromise,” he said.
He said that if this week’s Geneva talks between Libya’s two legislative bodies on a constitutional basis for elections did not produce a deal, he expected further negotiations that would build on areas already agreed.
The United States is pushing efforts to reduce conflict by ensuring fair, transparent spending of Libya’s oil revenue until an elected government can take office.
The United States and international partners have held meetings with Libyan figures to work out agreements on spending priorities, transparency, funding allocations and oversight of how money is used, he said.
“It’s essentially a committee and you want the right people and the right organisations,” he said, including from state auditing bodies, the parliament, finance ministry and others.
He said there had been buy-in from eastern and western factions to the idea, and that it would require broad involvement so that “the various political strands in the country feel their interests are being addressed” he said.
Economic disputes have amplified this year as the political crisis has accelerated. Groups aligned with eastern forces have blockaded oil output as a tactic to demand the parliament-appointed government take power.
And on Tuesday the eastern branch of the central bank indicated it could start printing its own money as the process of reunifying the bank hits problems.
A mechanism to resolve financial disputes over oil revenue is key to reunifying the central banks, he said.
“This mechanism could provide a short-term pseudo-governmental function until elections take place so the sooner that happens the better for all Libyans,” he added.