Lawmakers in the eastern Libyan city of Tobruk are under increasing diplomatic pressure to approve the UN-sponsored plan for a unity government, following an announcement earlier this week that they had rejected it.
Quizzed by a Libyan TV interviewer late on Wednesday, the speaker of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR), Agila Saleh, responded that that “the door of dialogue is not shut”.
Lawmakers in the parliament he heads were committed to “continued dialogue for the formation of a government of consensus” for the whole country, he told Libya’s Channel television. “Concessions will be needed from all sides.”
Since it was elected in June 2014 the HoR has been Libya’s internationally recognised government. Its initial mandate expired on Tuesday, however.
In a statement released in Brussels the previous day, the European Union, the US and an array of countries from Morocco to the United Arab Emirates had strongly urged all parties in Libya to accept the peace plan “without introducing further amendments”, in view of the risks of further instability.
The UN envoy for Libya, Bernardino Leon, on Wednesday said the HoR “had not been allowed to hold a vote” on whether or not to sign up to the the peace plan.
The speaker’s announcement on Monday that the parliament would not be accepting the plan had been followed by “a statement from what seems to be a majority of the members, insisting that there was no proper vote and no proper decision taken,” Leon told a press conference in Tunis.
“We still hope the House of Representatives will have the opportunity to express an opinion on the agreement in the coming days.”
He said certain “groups and personalities” had given out a “negative message” without suggesting alternative solutions, but the HoR “can expect the [continued] recognition of the international community” if it signed up to the deal.
The UN-sponsored plan would see the formation of a cabinet for the whole of Libya headed by a prime minister, with three deputy prime ministers, from the east, west and south of the country respectively.
The HoR would effectively continue in existence, while the rival General National Congress (GNC), which draws its support from the west of the country, would form the core a new state council upper chamber, with an advisory role.
The GNC, meeting in Tripoli, has for its part likewise withheld its approval from the deal, reportedly arguing that it does not provide sufficient guarantees that Islamic law will be implemented.
Both sides are also reported to have disputed Leon’s right to announce candidates for a unity government when its creation is still under negotiation.
Libya has had rival administrations since August 2014, when an alliance of militias, known as Libya Dawn, from the western city of Misrata took over Tripoli. The GNC, aligned with this movement, had rejected the results of the previous June election.
The UN’s plan for a unity government has been successively amended since it was presented in July this year, most recently to take into account demands made by the GNC.
ISIL threat increases
Reiterating that “a majority of the Libyans do not want any more confrontations”. Leon said the presence in Libya of fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group, was a growing threat.
Outstanding issues could be open to discussion once a unity government was in place, he said, “but we should not make more changes in the agreement because this could delay for months a solution that Libya badly needs”.
Leon, who took on the post in September 2014, is expected to hand over to a successor at the helm of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) before the end of this year.
Western capitals have so far failed to back up the UN’s efforts by applying real leverage with governments in the region, said London-based analyst Najm Jarrah, formerly a UNSMIL official.
“All these regional players have verbally supported the UN-brokered deal, but they don’t seem to have tried very hard to persuade their clients or protégés within Libya to comply,” he said.
“The UN has little option other than to soldier on and continue trying to broker compromises, in the hope enough moderates on both sides can be won over to create sufficient momentum to get a deal to stick,” he said. “There’s a lot of wishful thinking involved”.
For Libya analyst Valerie Stocker, “a major obstacle to the peace process is that both houses – in east and west Libya – are divided among themselves”.
The ISIL presence, meanwhile, does indeed represent a major change in the security landscape since Leon took on the job of mediator, she said. The fighters’ influence has waned in the eastern city of Derna, but in central Libya “no one has been seriously confronting them” as they expand southwards, in a power vacuum.
On the security track of the peace process, Leon declared that “most of these militias are supporting the agreement and are supporting the unity government”.
He and his team members had held more than 1,000 meetings with militia leaders, he said. “They don’t want this situation to continue.” However, this was “not all of them of course, and we will continue to work with those who don’t agree”.