Libya’s east-based parliament has approved a new government despite the incumbent administration pledging not to cede power, pushing a fragile peace process to the brink of collapse and raising the risk of new conflict.
Prime Minister-designate Fathi Bashagha on Tuesday submitted his Cabinet to the east-based House of Representatives, where 92 of 101 legislators in attendance approved it, during a vote that was broadcast live from the city of Tobruk.
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The new government included three deputy prime ministers, 29 ministers and six ministers of state. There were only two women in the Cabinet, overseeing the Ministry of Culture and Arts and holding the position of state minister for women’s affairs.
The vote aggravated a power struggle with the interim administration of Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah, who was installed through a UN-supported process last year. It is likely to produce two parallel administrations, which could derail the United Nations-led efforts to reconcile the war-torn country.
There was no immediate comment from Dbeibah, who repeatedly promised to only hand over power to an elected government and said parliamentary elections should be held in June.
Libya was split for years between rival administrations based in the east and the west, each supported by myriad militias and foreign governments. Opposing armed groups have mobilised in the capital Tripoli during recent weeks and foreign forces that have backed rival warring factions remain embedded in the country.
The political crisis leaves Libya without a unified government, with the main political and military forces bitterly divided and with no clear path forward.
The first signs of serious trouble emerged late last year when presidential elections scheduled for December 24 and intended to replace the transitional government headed by Dbeibah were postponed indefinitely. Underlying the delay was disagreement about eligible candidates and the ground rules for holding the vote.
On February 10, the parliament appointed Bashagha to form a new government. It said elections should be held within 14 months.
Dbeibah refused to step aside, pledging to hold on to power until elections take place.
Last month, Libya’s parliament appointed Bashaga as the new prime minister following what it saw as Dbeibah’s failure to hold national elections. The appointment is part of a roadmap that also involves constitutional amendments and sets the date for elections within 14 months.
The move came hours after an apparent assassination attempt on Dbeibah, whose vehicle was sprayed with small-arms fire in the capital, Tripoli. He escaped unharmed.
Both Bashagha and Dbeibah hail from Misrata, a city in western Libya.
Beshagha, a former air force pilot and businessman who served as interior minister in the UN-backed administration in Tripoli from 2018 until March 2021, is seen by many in western Libya as the country’s strongman.
Dbeibah, a powerful businessman from Misrata who is believed to rely on the wealth of a relative, Ali Dbeibah, a politician in Gaddafi’s time, 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 on December 24.