Libya’s Eastern Parliament Withdraws Support for United Government

Self-proclaimed Libyan National Army Chief of Staff Khalifa Haftar arrives for a conference on Libya on November 12, 2018, at Villa Igiea in Palermo. (Filippo Monteforte/AFP via Getty Images)
Filippo Monteforte/AFP via Getty Images

Libya’s eastern “parliament” – essentially a rival government based in Tobruk, with its own Libyan National Army (LNA) headed by warlord Khalifa Haftar – voted on Tuesday to withdraw its confidence from the “unity government” in Tripoli.

Ever since Haftar’s effort to conquer Tripoli by force was repelled last summer, the unity Government of National Accord has treated the eastern Parliament as a branch of the legislature that happens to be located in a different city than the rest of the national government.

In Tuesday’s vote, 89 of 113 lawmakers voted to withdraw confidence from Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, who took office in February. 

A parliamentary spokesman explained that Dbeibah would be tolerated as a “caretaker” until December’s parliamentary and presidential elections.

Dbeibah sounded displeased with the vote but did not immediately reject it. He said on Tuesday his administration would attempt to finish what it started “in order to save the nation and hopefully unite it.”

“We will not side with any party that wants to distract and destroy this nation,” he said, somewhat ominously. 

Reuters quoted Dbeibah dismissing some members of parliament as “obstructionists” and assuring his audience in Tripoli that “legitimacy rests with you, the people.”

Dbeibah was presented as an interim or transitional leader when he took office, chosen by 75 U.N.-approved Libyan delegates to shepherd the unity government until a full election could hopefully cement eastern and western Libya together. His top agenda items included creating a ministry of “national recognition” to bring the various factions of his country together and convince foreign investors Libya would become a stable environment for business.

Some of those Libyan factions were uncomfortable with the choice of Libyan prime minister, because Debeibah was a longtime associate of slain dictator Moammar Qaddafi. He ran Libya’s state investment and construction company from 2007 until Qaddafi’s overthrow in 2011. Debeibah’s critics accused him of corruption and ties to the destabilizing Muslim Brotherhood.

Reuters suggested the row between Tripoli and Tobruk might put the December elections in doubt:

The U.N. forum decided that presidential and parliamentary elections should take place on Dec. 24, but disagreements now rage over the legal basis for the votes and the laws that will govern them.

This month, parliamentary speaker Aguila Saleh said the House of Representatives had passed a law for the presidential election, though it did not hold a final vote on the bill.

The validity of that law was promptly challenged by the High Council of State based in Tripoli, in the west, which produced its own, alternative election law.

The High Council of State (HCS) on Monday suggested elections might need to be postponed for a year. It also rejected the no-confidence vote from Parliament, suggesting it violated a 2015 agreement on the structure of the unity government.

Delaying the elections might prove inconvenient for Khalifa Haftar, who appears interested in running for the presidency. 

On Wednesday, Haftar announced he was stepping aside as leader of the Libyan National Army (LNA), naming his chief of staff Gen. Abdelrazak al-Nadhuri to take his place. Current Libyan election law requires military officials to resign from their positions at least three months before running for office. This clause was introduced by the eastern parliament only a few weeks ago, in a curiously hasty vote, fueling suspicions it was written specifically to let Haftar run for national office.

Crucially, Haftar said Nadhuri’s temporary promotion was good for “a period of three months,” which would give Haftar just enough time to run for president and return to command of the LNA if he loses.

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