His formal entry into an election whose rules are still contested by Libya’s squabbling factions may also cast new questions over a contest that features candidates viewed in some regions as unacceptable.
Despite the public backing of most Libyan factions and foreign powers for elections on December 24, the vote remains in doubt as rival entities bicker over the rules and schedule.
A major conference in Paris on Friday agreed to sanction any who disrupt or prevent the vote, but with less than six weeks to go, there is still no agreement on rules to govern who should be able to run.
While Gadhafi is likely to play on nostalgia for the era before the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that swept his father from power and ushered in a decade of chaos and violence, analysts say he may not prove to be a front runner.
The Gadhafi era is still remembered by many Libyans as one of harsh autocracy, while Saif al-Islam and other former regime figures have been out of power for so long they may find it difficult to mobilize as much support as major rivals.
Just over a decade later, Saif al-Islam is now something of a cipher for Libyans. The Zintan fighters kept him for years out of public sight and his views on the crisis are not known.
He gave an interview to the New York Times earlier this year, but has not yet made any public appearance speaking directly to Libyans.
Educated at the London School of Economics and a fluent English speaker, Saif al-Islam was once seen by many governments as the acceptable, Western-friendly face of Libya, and a possible heir apparent.
But when a rebellion broke out in 2011 against Moammar Gadhafi’s long rule, Saif al-Islam immediately chose family and clan loyalties over his many friendships in the West, telling Reuters television: “We fight here in Libya; we die here in Libya.”