Libya’s divisions seemed poised to deepen on Thursday as the eastern-based parliament named a new prime minister, with the incumbent refusing to step aside.
The move threatens to plunge Libya back to the split between two warring, parallel administrations that governed from 2014 until a unity government was installed last year as part of a U.N.-backed peace plan.
A spokesman for the parliament said it had chosen former interior minister Fathi Bashagha by acclamation after the only other candidate withdrew.
However, Prime Minister Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah, who heads the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNU) has rejected the parliament’s moves, saying he will only hand power after a national election.
The parliament wants to take control of Libya’s political future after the collapse of an election that was planned for December, saying Dbeibah’s interim government is no longer valid and pushing any new election back until next year.
Bashagha 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.
While Libya has had little peace or stability since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising against Muammar Gaddafi, and split between warring eastern and western factions in 2014, a ceasefire has mostly held since summer 2020.
The installation of Dbeibah’s interim unity government last year and the promised march towards election was hailed as the best chance of peace for Libya in years before it all fell apart.
However, while rival armed forces have mobilised inside Tripoli in recent weeks, analysts say this political crisis will not necessarily translate into fighting soon.
The U.N. Libya adviser and Western countries have said Dbeibah’s Government of National Unity remains valid and have urged the parliament to focus instead on bringing elections forward.
Nearly 3 million Libyans signed up to vote in the December election, and the political jostling and delays that have followed have infuriated and frustrated many of them.
Critics of Parliament Speaker Aguila Saleh have previously accused him of chicanery in pushing through laws or decisions without proper votes.
More than 140 parliament members attended Thursday’s session and they voted to confirm a move to redraft Libya’s temporary constitution in consultation with another body, the High State Council, the parliament spokesman said.
However, as a vote on the new prime minister approached, Saleh said Bashagha’s rival in the contest had withdrawn. The session was briefly suspended and the parliament speaker quickly asked for a show of hands in support of Bashagha, whom he declared prime minister by acclamation.
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.