Eastern military commander Khalifa Haftar will run in Libya’s presidential elections due next month, he announced in a televised speech on Tuesday.
“Elections are the only way out of the severe crisis that our country has plunged into,” said Haftar, who was expected to formally register later on Tuesday at the election centre in Benghazi.
Haftar, commander of a force called the Libyan National Army (LNA), waged war on factions in the west after the country split in 2014, including a 14-month offensive to capture Tripoli which was repelled by the internationally recognised government.
Backed by Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, Haftar, a former CIA asset, is a controversial figure, despised by many in western Libya for the last year’s devastating Tripoli offensive. He has also been accused of seeking to establish a military dictatorship in the country.
His decision to run will anger many in the capital city and western regions who say no vote in areas he holds can be fair and who accuse him of war crimes during the assault, something he denies.
The announcement of his candidacy comes two days after Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of Libya’s former leader Muammar Gaddafi, registered as a presidential candidate for the country’s election.
On September 22, Haftar provisionally retired from his role as head of the LNA in line with electoral law to allow him to run for president.
Last week, his forces said 300 mercenaries fighting on his side would leave Libya at the request of France in a “unilateral gesture”, expecting nothing in return from the government in Tripoli.
Following the announcement, Haftar is expected to head to the electoral authority to formalise his candidacy.
The election is meant as a milestone in the political process to knit Libya back together after a decade of chaos that spiralled out of the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that ousted Muammar Gaddafi.
However, with no clear agreement on the legal basis for the election, major factions may reject the vote.
A major conference in Paris on Friday agreed to sanction those who disrupt or prevent the vote, but there is still no agreement on rules to govern who should be able to run.
Wrangling over the election threatens to unravel the wider peace process, which also includes efforts to unify long-divided state institutions and to pull out foreign mercenaries who remain entrenched along front lines despite a UN-brokered ceasefire.