A standoff between two rival governments in Libya worsened on Thursday with the risk of fighting or territorial division, as the parliament in the east swore in a new administration while the incumbent in Tripoli refused to cede power, Reuters reports.
Addressing the parliament after taking the oath of office, Fathi Bashagha said he was studying all options to take over in Tripoli. The present Prime Minister there, Abdulhamid Al-Dbeibah, has said he will not hand over control.
Armed groups affiliated with both sides have mobilised in the capital and foreign forces, including from Turkey and Russia, remain entrenched in Libya nearly 18 months after a ceasefire ended the last major bout of warfare.
Underlining the tense situation, Bashagha’s office has accused Dbeibah of using force to try to stop his cabinet reaching Tobruk for the parliament session, by closing air space and seizing three ministers who tried to travel by land.
Dbeibah’s government has not responded to those claims, though airline sources said domestic flights were not operating and a statement from his Defence Ministry warned against any armed convoy moving without permission.
Meanwhile, after National Oil Corp said bad weather stopped exports, Dbeibah’s Oil Minister rejected the explanation and accused the company of undermining security, a sign of the stakes around Libya’s 1.3 million barrels per day output.
The United Nations cast doubt overnight on the validity of the parliament’s effort to install Bashagha, saying it was concerned by reports that Tuesday’s vote of confidence “fell short of the expected standards”.
The position of international powers will be key in the coming tussle for control of Libya, with a risk of renewed war after a year and a half of comparative peace between major factions battling for control of the oil-rich State.
Groups located in the main oil producing regions have, meanwhile, warned they may block off Libya’s energy exports, which amount to 1.3 million barrels per day.
Libya has had little peace or security since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising against Muammar Gaddafi, and it split in 2014 between rival governments based in Tripoli in the west, and in the east where the parliament is based.
Neither the political nor the military coalitions that are crystallising now exactly match those that fought from 2014 until a 2020 truce, but any new conflict would again likely pit eastern forces against a combination of western groups.
Dbeibah’s government was put in place a year ago through a UN-backed peace process that was aimed at resolving political problems through an election, but the vote did not take place amid arguments over the rules.
Since then, the parliament has tried to take control of the process by saying Dbeibah’s term had expired and setting a course towards a referendum on an altered constitution, and then elections in 2023.
Dbeibah has rejected the parliament’s stance and says he is planning to hold national elections in June. Both sides blame each other for the failure of December’s election, and accuse each other of lacking legitimacy.
The parliament was elected in 2014 and mostly backed the eastern forces of Khalifa Haftar, which laid partial siege to Tripoli from 2019 – 20, destroying much of the city in an attempt to wrest it from the then internationally recognised government.
The United Nations Secretary General’s spokesperson said in a statement that there were reports that Tuesday’s vote did not meet standards of transparency and procedure, and of acts of intimidation before the session. The parliament spokesperson has denied there was wrongdoing.
The United Nations said the main focus now should be on renewing the push for elections. UN Libya adviser, Stephanie Williams, will soon invite the parliament and an opposing political body, the High Council of State, for talks.
The designated Economy Minister in Bashagha’s government, Jamal Shaaban, said he would not join the new administration over doubts about Tuesday’s voting process.
vote of confidence for new government criticised as ‘breach of agreement’
The Head of the High Council of State in Libya has said that the vote of confidence by the House of Representatives in Tobruk for a new government headed by Fathi Bashagha represents a “violation of the political agreement,” Anadolu has reported.
“The High Council of State has confirmed its rejection of the steps taken by the parliament alone,” added Khalid Al-Mishri. “It will meet next Thursday to take the necessary measures regarding these violations.” He also described the continued closure of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court as a “crime”.
Meanwhile, the Government of National Unity (GNU) headed by Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh announced that it will continue its duties. It accused the House of Representatives of “rigging” the quorum set for passing a vote of confidence.
The GNU argues that the outcomes of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (the “political agreement” referred to by Al-Mishri) set the term of the transitional executive authority at 18 months, extending it until 24 June this year.
Dbeibeh’s government has said that it will deal “in full compliance with the law” with any attempt to raid its headquarters. It vowed to “hold accountable anyone who dares to approach any government headquarters or tamper with the stability and destiny of the Libyans.”
The government called on both the Presidential Council and the President of the Supreme Court to “assume their historical responsibilities, and to expedite the reopening of the Constitutional Chamber to finally adjudicate all problems that threaten the stability of the country.”
The GNU statement followed Bashagha’s announcement on Tuesday that his “government” will assume its duties in the capital Tripoli “peacefully”. He stressed the importance of “reconciliation” and affirming that his government “did not come for revenge”. He insisted that the vote of confidence was carried out in a “transparent and public manner”.
The House of Representatives appointed Bashagha to form a new government on 10 February, after the failure to hold the presidential election on 24 December 24 due to disagreements between official institutions about election laws and the role of the judiciary in the process. On 21 February, Dbeibeh announced a plan to hold a parliamentary election and a referendum on the draft of the new constitution simultaneously before 24 June.
Libyan Government of National Unity accuses eastern parliament of ‘fraud’
Libya’s National Unity Government has reiterated its adherence to its mandate, accusing the eastern-based parliament in Tobruk of “fraud” by granting confidence to a new government led by Fathi Bashagha.
The unity government cited in a statement the outcomes of the political dialogue forum which had set the duration of the transitional executive authority at 18 months or until 24 June 2022.
“The government confirms that it is continuing its work, and will not bother with this mess, concentrating its efforts to complete the elections as scheduled next June,” it said in a statement yesterday.
Earlier a spokesman for the eastern-based House of Representatives announced that the parliament has “unanimously approved Fathi Bashagha to head the government.”
Emerging reports said as many as 92 lawmakers out of the parliament’s 101 voted in favour of granting confidence to Bashagha.
However, the unity government has contested the results, calling the vote “a new farce” where Libyans could easily see “forgery in the count” on TV screens.
According to the statement, the count did not reach the quorum while many lawmakers were not even in Tobruk to attend the session, yet they had been counted as in attendance.
On 10 February, the eastern-based House of Representatives assigned Bashagha to form a new government, after presidential elections could not be held in December.
However, National Unity Government head Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh announced a plan to hold parliamentary elections and a referendum on the draft constitution simultaneously before 24 June.
However, so far, no new date for presidential and parliamentary elections has been agreed upon.