(Reuters) -Libyan legislative leaders quit talks in Geneva on a constitution and elections without reaching a deal on Thursday, pausing diplomacy to resolve a standoff that has imperilled a two-year peace process.
The talks between the House of Representatives and High State Council legislative bodies were aimed at agreeing a constitutional basis and interim arrangements for elections that were originally scheduled for December 2021.
Many Libyans fear that a failure to set a path to elections and resolve an existing dispute about control of an interim government will thrust the country back towards territorial division or conflict.
Since the planned December election was abandoned, Libya’s rival factions have moved to a standoff over control of government with both sides backed by different armed forces.
U.N. Libya adviser Stephanie Williams said that while they had made progress in agreeing the role and powers of a future president, parliament and government, they were not able to bridge other differences.
“Disagreement persists on the eligibility requirements for the candidates in the first presidential elections,” she said, adding that she would make recommendations on alternative ways forward.
Disputes over the eligibility of several controversial candidates were the trigger for the collapse of December’s election.
The House of Representatives in March appointed Fathi Bashagha to take over as prime minister, but Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah who was installed in the role through a U.N.-backed process last year has refused to step down.
Clashes have sporadically broken out in Tripoli between factions that back either camp, with Bashagha having twice failed to enter the capital in the face of armed opposition by groups tied to Dbeibah.
Meanwhile, parallel efforts to resolve disputes over access to state oil revenues are fraying, with the eastern branch of the central bank warning it could start printing its own money again and groups in the east blockading oil facilities.
Analysts expect Bashagha to make another attempt to take over in Tripoli by reshuffling his government and giving more cabinet positions to allies of armed faction leaders in the capital.
Some of the armed forces in Tripoli and western areas would likely still oppose any move by Bashagha to take power because his government is backed by eastern commander Khalifa Haftar, who mounted a 14-month offensive against them from 2019-20.
With Dbeibah also contemplating a reshuffle to keep powerful factional allies on board, there is an increasing number of possible causes for conflict, said Libya expert Jalel Harchaoui.
“Officially nobody wants to fight. But the sheer number of sources of contention is growing,” he said.
The U.S. Libya ambassador Richard Norland on Wednesday told Reuters that it would be possible to go ahead with an election even if the stalemate between Dbeibah and Bashagha was not resolved and different forces controlled different regions.
He said that if factions could agree on a joint committee to agree spending priorities and oversee transparent arrangements to manage and distribute oil revenue, then it could function as a pseudo government until elections.
However, analysts fear that getting rival factions to resolve disputes over corruption and spending that have festered for years would be very difficult and the involvement of foreign powers could cause further complications.
“It may well disrupt the current fragile equilibrium much more than the initiative’s U.S. sponsors anticipate,” said Harchaoui.
(Reporting by Angus McDowall; Editing by Toby Chopra and Jonathan Oatis, William Maclean)