Libyan lawmakers approve new govt, fueling tensions

BENGHAZI, Libya — Libyan lawmakers confirmed a new transitional government Tuesday, a move that is likely to lead to parallel administrations and fuel mounting tensions in a country that has been mired in conflict for the past decade.

Prime Minister-designate Fathi Bashagha submitted his Cabinet to the east-based House of Representatives, where 92 of 101 lawmakers in attendance approved it in a vote broadcast live from the city of Tobruk.

The new government includes three deputy prime ministers, 29 ministers and six ministers of state. The Cabinet is composed of only two women. They oversee the Ministry of Culture and Arts and hold the post of State Minister for Women Affairs.

Bashagha appointed Ahmeid Houma, the second deputy speaker of the parliament, to lead the Ministry of Defense, and Brig. Essam Abu Zawiya from Zawiya was named interior minister. Hafez Qadour was formerly an ambassador to the European Union and has been named foreign minister.

The appointment of Bashagha last month, a powerful former interior minister from the western city of Misrata, is part of a roadmap that also involves constitutional amendments and sets the date for elections within 14 months.

The move created divisions in Libya and raised concerns that violence could return, even though it was carried out after a period of relative calm .

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the United Nations is closely watching the developments, saying “the ongoing political legislative process” must be transparent “and adhere to established rules and agreements.” He also stressed the importance of maintaining the “calm and stability” that has been achieved since the October 2020 cease-fire agreement.

Bashagha has formed an alliance with powerful east-based commander Khalifa Hifter, who welcomed Bashagha’s appointment as prime minister earlier this month. This alliance is causing concern among anti-Hifter groups in Libya, as well as Turkey’s main supporter.

“Now, the question is whether Bashagha’s concocted alliance and those of his ministers will allow them to rule in Tripoli,” Jalel Harchaoui said. He’s a Libyan researcher. “It is not clear at all that Turkey and, importantly, Misrata’s main forces will let that happen right away.”

Embattled Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, who like Bashagha hails from Misrata, remined defiant Tuesday against replacing his government. In a statement, Dbeibah’s government called Tuesday’s confirmation a “new farce” and accused the parliament’s leadership of “messing with the security and stability of Libyans.”

Dbeibah has repeatedly said his government will hand over power only to an elected government. Dbeibah has suggested a plan of four points to have a simultaneous referendum and parliamentary vote on constitutional amendments in late June. After the permanent constitution is drafted by the new parliament, a presidential election would follow. The timeframe for the presidential elections was not set by him.

Dbeibah, who was elected through U.N.-led processes in February 2021 under the condition that he lead the country to elections. His failure to organize the country’s first presidential election under his supervision is what led to this effort to succeed him.

The presidential vote was originally planned for Dec. 24, but it was postponed over disputes between rival factions on laws governing the elections and controversial presidential hopefuls. The mandate of Dbeibah’s government was ended Dec. 24.

The vote’s delay was a major blow to international efforts to end a decade of chaos in the oil-rich Mediterranean nation.

Libya has been unable to hold elections since its disputed legislative vote in 2014, which caused the country to split for years between rival administrations, each backed by armed militias and foreign governments.

The oil-rich North African nation has been wrecked by conflict since a NATO-backed uprising toppled then killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

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Magdy reported from Cairo.

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