Son of late Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, Saif al-Islam, announced Sunday his candidacy for the country’s upcoming presidential and parliamentary polls to be held on Dec. 24, Libya’s High National Elections Commission (HNEC) said.
Libya’s first-ever direct presidential poll is the culmination of the peace process initiated last year by the United Nations to draw a line against years of violence since the revolt that toppled dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.
Al-Islam, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of crimes against humanity related to the 2011 uprising, submitted his candidacy papers in the southern town of Sabha, 650 kilometers (400 miles) south of the capital of Tripoli, HNEC said in a statement.
Gadhafi’s son was captured by fighters in Zintan late in 2011, the year when a popular uprising, backed by NATO, toppled his father after more than 40 years in power. Moammar Gadhafi was later killed amid the ensuing fighting that would turn into a civil war. As a result, oil-rich Libya spent most of the last decade spilt between rival governments – one based in the capital, Tripoli, and the other in the eastern part of the country.
In a video shared by an election official, al-Islam addressed the camera, saying that God will decide the right path for the country’s future. He wore a traditional Libyan robe and turban, and spectacles. It was the first time in years that he appeared in public.
He was seen as the reformist face of Gadhafi’s regime before the 2011 uprising. He was released in June 2017 after more than five years of detention. In July, he told The New York Times in an exclusive interview that he was considering a run for the country’s top office. His candidacy is likely to stir controversy across the divided country.
ICC spokesperson Fadi El Abdallah declined to comment on Saif al-Islam’s candidacy. “The Court doesn’t comment on political issues, as for the legal side there is a pending warrant of arrest and that hasn’t changed,” he said.
Gadhafi’s son, who has deeply rooted links to tribes across Libya, is the first major presidential hopeful to submit his candidacy to run for the country’s highest post. Other potential candidates include putschist Gen. Khalifa Haftar, the commander of eastern-based forces in the civil war, Parliament Speaker Aguila Saleh and former Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha.
The election agency began the registration process for presidential and parliamentary hopefuls last week. The candidates have until Nov. 22 to register to run for the country’s highest post, while parliamentary hopefuls have until Dec. 7 to register their candidacies.
The announcement came after an international conference in Paris on Friday expressed support for holding “free, fair, inclusive and credible presidential and parliamentary elections” on Dec. 24.
The long-awaited vote still faces challenges, including unresolved issues over election laws and occasional infighting among armed groups. Other obstacles include the deep rift that remains between the country’s east and west, split for years by the war, and the presence of thousands of foreign fighters and troops.
Gadhafi, the dictator, had eight children, most of whom played significant roles in his regime. His son Muatassim was killed at the same time Gadhafi was captured and slain. Two other sons, Saif al-Arab and Khamis, were killed earlier in the uprising. Another son, al-Saadi Gadhafi, was released in September after more than seven years of detention in the capital of Tripoli following his extradition from neighboring Niger.