Libya’s east-based parliament has appointed a new prime minister, a development that could derail UN efforts to reconcile the war-torn country and one likely to produce two parallel administrations.
The House of Representatives said its decision on Thursday followed the failure of Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, the incumbent prime minister, to hold national elections in December, something that was agreed to under a UN-brokered peace process.
The move also came hours after an assassination attempt on Dbeibah, whose vehicle was sprayed with small-arms fire in the capital Tripoli. He escaped unharmed.
The lack of elections has seriously undermined international efforts to end a decade of chaos in the oil-rich North African nation.
However, Thursday’s move is expected to deepen divisions between rival factions in the war-stricken country. Libya has been racked by conflict since a NATO-backed uprising against longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
The country was for years split between rival administrations in the east and west, each supported by myriad militias and foreign governments.
“Dbeibah is refusing to step down, so there is potential for some kind of conflict in Tripoli and beyond,” Amanda Kadlec, a former member of the UN Panel of Experts on Libya, told AFP news agency. “It could get ugly really fast.”
Political crisis will spread?
East-based lawmakers named former Interior Minister Fathi Bashaga to replace Dbeibah as head of a new interim government, according to the parliament spokesman Abdullah Bliheg.
“After Mr Fathi Bashagha obtained the required recommendations from the High Council of State, and candidate Khaled al-Baibas was unable to obtain the required recommendations from the High Council of State, the House of Representatives voted to grant confidence to Mr Fathi Bashagha, as head of the next government, with the unanimous consent of the representatives present in today’s session,” said Bliheg.
Shortly before the vote, Parliament Speaker Aguila Saleh told lawmakers in a televised session that Bashagha became the sole candidate for the post after contender al-Baibas pulled out.
Bashagha, 59, is expected to travel from the parliament’s seat in the eastern city of Tobruk to Tripoli later on Thursday – when it may become clear whether the political crisis will spread to confrontations between the capital’s many armed groups.
Today’s news. Libya has two prime ministers. again. Groundhog Day.
— Anas El Gomati (@AGomati) February 10, 2022
A former air force pilot and businessman, Bashagha stands as a powerful figure in western Libya. During his tenure as interior minister from 2018 until early 2021, he cultivated ties with Turkey, France and the United States, but also with Egypt and Russia, which backed his nominal rivals in the intra-Libyan conflict.
He is also believed to have links to armed militias in the western city of Misrata that played a key role in defending the capital against a 2019 military offensive from the east. That attack was led by renegade general Khalifa Haftar.
Haftar and his military force welcomed the parliament’s move on Thursday.
Libya was to hold a presidential election on December 24, but it was postponed over disputes between rival factions on laws governing the vote and controversial presidential hopefuls. East-based legislators have argued the mandate of Dbeibah’s government ended on that date.
On Wednesday, hundreds took to the streets in the capital of Tripoli to protest the parliament’s decision to name a new prime minister. Dbeibah warned his dismissal would lead the country back to “division and chaos” after nearly two years of relative calm. He said he would only relinquish his post to an elected government.
Dbeibah, a powerful businessman from Misrata, was appointed prime minister in February last year as part of the UN-brokered, Western-backed political process. His government’s main task was to steer the deeply divided country towards national reconciliation and lead it through elections.
The vote was the linchpin of UN-mediated efforts to bring peace to the nation. But the incumbent prime minister became a polarising figure since he announced his presidential bid, breaking his pledge not to run in elections when he was appointed as interim prime minister.
“Fathi Beshagha is seen by many in western Libya as the country’s strongman. When he was interior minister, he took a strong stance against militias. That brought him into the limelight,” said Al Jazeera’s Malik Traina, reporting from Tripoli.
“He got the general support of people as well as the international community. They thought he could help stabilise the police force and the security apparatus, especially in western Libya.”
Dbeibah said he embarked on consultations to agree on a new roadmap to hold elections in June, a date the UN mission in Libya seeks to reschedule the vote.
Western governments have urged the current government remain in place until the vote is held to avoid chaos and confusion.
During the same session, lawmakers also voted in favour of a set of constitutional amendments that put forward a new plan for the country’s transition to a democratically elected government.
The amendments envisage the creation of a new electoral commission and the appointment of a 24-member committee, representing the country’s all three regions, to draft a new constitution.
In a televised address on Tuesday, Dbeibah promised that he would “accept no new transitional phase or parallel authority” and declared he would only hand over power to an elected government.
Both Bashagha and Dbeibah have the support of rival armed groups in the Libyan capital.
The UN, Western powers and even some members of parliament have called for Dbeibah to stay in his role until elections, though a new date has not yet been set.
The parliament spokesman said Bashagha had been given 10 days to name a cabinet and present it to the parliament for a vote of confidence.
The political manoeuvring reflected the fragile situation on the ground in Libya, with a source close to Dbeibah saying the interim leader’s car had been hit by bullets overnight in an assassination attempt.
However, there was no official or public statement to confirm that.