Libya met with rival governments on Tuesday after parliament approved a new cabinet in a challenge to Unity Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, who has refused to relinquish power until the election.
In a vote, some fears could help tip the conflict-ridden nation into a new round of violence; former Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha’s cabinet was approved by 92 of the 101 members present, said speaker Aguila Saleh.
The House of Representatives (HoR) in the eastern city of Tobruk had appointed Bashagha as prime minister earlier this month.
It had commissioned him to form a government to replace it in Dbeibah, based in the western capital of Tripoli and considered by Saleh to have survived its mandate.
But Dbeibah has repeatedly said he will only hand over power to an elected government.
The construction magnate had been appointed a year earlier as part of a UN-led effort to draw a line during a decade of conflict following the 2011 uprising that overthrew dictator Moammar Gaddafi.
He was to lead the country until the elections in December, but they were postponed indefinitely and Saleh, a rival presidential candidate, claimed that Dbeibah’s term had ended.
On Tuesday, the cabinet with 29 ministers, three deputy prime ministers and six prime ministers – including only two women – was presented to the legislature.
Each legislator was asked to vote “trust” or “distrust” when the names were read out, but Saleh announced that the government had been approved before all names were announced.
The Dbeibah government quickly issued a statement condemning what it said was an “obviously” fraudulent vote.
“Several members of the HoR said that they were not in Tobruk but that they were counted” among those present, “who still did not reach the quorum,” it said.
But in a video message, Bashagha insisted that the vote had been “clear, transparent and public”.
“The most important things we are working for today are reconciliation, participation and stability,” he said, adding that his government would “take over its tasks in the capital Tripoli in a peaceful and secure manner.”
Dbeibah’s office responded with a second statement, promising to continue its work, accusing the legislature of threatening Libya’s stability.
It added that it would take legal action and “hold accountable anyone who dares to approach any government building”.
The Legislative Assembly had previously issued a statement condemning “death threats against many MEPs and their families” before the vote.
Elected in 2014, its eastern location contrasts with the Dbeibah administration, which sits in the capital Tripoli in western Libya, reflecting the deep and complex divisions that have plagued the country in recent years.
The emergence of the Bashagha government once again gives the country two prime ministers, as was the case between 2014 and a landmark east-west ceasefire in 2020.
This is a major challenge for Dbeibah, whose statement on Tuesday reiterated that his government intends to hold legislative elections in June.
Bashagha, a 59-year-old former fighter pilot from Misrata near Tripoli, is supported by East-based Putist general Khalifa Haftar, whose catastrophic attack on the capital in 2019-2020 ended in defeat and a return to UN peace efforts, following Turkey’s efforts. support for the legitimate Tripoli government.
During Bashagha’s term as Home Secretary 2018-2021, he worked to reduce the influence of militias and bring warriors into state-led forces.
He is one of the few major Libyan actors who has good relations with foreign powers that support rival sides in the country.
But Libyan analyst Wolfram Lacher wrote on Twitter after the vote that “what I can not see is how (Bashagha’s cabinet is approved) can create stability.”
“On the other hand, the potential for renewed conflict is real, even if it builds over time rather than breaking out immediately.”
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