Libya on Monday opened registration for candidates in presidential and parliamentary elections, as the country seeks to move on from a decade of war. The North African nation’s first ever direct presidential elections, with a first round on December 24, come after a year of relative peace following a ceasefire between eastern and western camps in October 2020. But the United Nations-backed elections process has been overshadowed by wrangling over the legal basis for the votes and the powers of whoever wins. Candidates are able to lodge applications at offices of the High National Electoral Commission (HNEC) in the three main cities in Libya’s west, east and south until November 22, the HNEC said Sunday. Parliamentary candidates have until December 7 to do so. Speculation has been mounting for months over possible presidential bids by eastern-based military chief Khalifa Haftar and by Seif al-Islam, son of former dictator Moamer Kadhafi, whose fall in a 2011 NATO-backed revolt triggered the country’s fall into years of violence and political turmoil. Former interior minister Fathi Bashagha has confirmed he will run, while others expected to do so include diplomats Aref al-Nayed and Ibrahim Dabbachi, as well as comedian Hatem al-Kour. The opening of candidacies “is the real start of the electoral process,” the head of the electoral commission Imad al-Sayeh told reporters on Sunday. Both presidential and parliamentary elections are slated for December 24, but in early October, parliament split the dates of the vote by postponing legislative elections until January. However, foreign powers have been pushing hard for both elections to be still held on the same day, a date agreed at UN-led talks last year. More than 2.8 million of Libya’s seven million residents have registered with the HNEC for the vote. International powers have been pushing elections as a key part of a roadmap out of years of violence between an array of Libyan and foreign armed groups, many backed by overseas powers. But observers worry that the security situation will not allow a free and fair vote, while a disputed outcome could spark a return to conflict.