UN chief Antonio Guterres on Friday called for elections to be held in Libya as soon as possible after the country found itself with two competing prime ministers, which raises the specter of renewed violence.
The Secretary-General reminded “all institutions of the primary objective of holding national elections as soon as possible”, in a statement saying that he “notes” the name of the Libyan Parliament on a new Prime Minister.
The UN chief’s statement did not name either Libya’s interim prime minister Abdel Hamid Dbeibah or the new prime minister appointed on Thursday, Fathi Bashagha.
Guterres also did not repeat what his spokesman had said a day earlier, namely that the UN has continued to support Dbeibah as interim prime minister.
The war-torn Libyan parliament, based in the country’s eastern hundreds of miles from the capital, voted to replace Dbeibah with former Interior Minister Bashagha, raising the prospect of a power struggle in the capital after a year and a half of relative calm.
Dbeibah, a construction magnate appointed a year ago as part of UN-led peace efforts, has vowed to hand over power only to a government that emerges from a democratic vote.
His unitary government took office in early 2021.
But when the December 24 elections were called amid deep disagreements over their legal basis and several controversial candidates, his rivals accused his term of office of ending.
Shattered by a decade of fighting since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising that overthrew dictator Moammar Gaddafi, Libya had two rival heads of government between 2014 and 2016.
The UN has been working to reunite the country’s fragmented institutions since the end of the latest major fighting in 2020, but many analysts have accused the entrenched political elite of blocking reconciliation efforts.
The country’s infrastructure is destroyed and its economy battered, which means that for normal Libyans, efforts can not be higher.
“The cost of living is obscene,” said Abdul Mawla al-Kaseh, a resident of Shahat in northeastern Libya.
Salem Bakkar, also from Shahat, said it does not matter who leads the government as long as they “emphasize the importance of reconciliation and call for elections.”
Libya has seen months of relative stability since a landmark ceasefire in October 2020, which formally ended the eastern military coup by General Khalifa Haftar’s attempt to forcibly take the capital Tripoli to the west.
But a patchwork of local militias, with foreign support and linked to political figures, continues to compete for control.
Dbeibah and his unitary government were appointed with a mandate to steer the country to the ballot box, which eventually derailed by differences over their legal basis and controversial candidates.
It left question marks over the UN roadmap.
The Eastern-led parliament – whose own mandate expired in 2015 – claimed that Dbeibah’s administration had passed its deadline and increased efforts to remove him.
As Bashagha now challenges his power, backed by Haftar’s forces, some analysts fear a return to conflict.
Still, it can look very different from the previous rounds of violence driven by the country’s geographical divisions.
“There really is not an East-West division like there was a year ago,” said Amanda Kadlec, a former member of the UN Panel on Libya.
“What is potentially dangerous is violence in Tripoli, as Bashagha and Dbeibah both have deep links over western Libya,” she added.
Millett also warned of “potential instability in Tripoli”, saying: “The international community should strive for a clear and transparent process setting out a clear roadmap for elections.”
Kadlec added that armed groups that support Dbeibah can easily switch behind Bashagha, provided he is “willing to give them positions in government, continue to pay their salaries and give them weapons.”
Claudia Gazzini, senior Libyan analyst at the International Crisis Group, wrote on Twitter that parliament would hold a confidence vote on Bashagha’s proposed cabinet in two weeks.
“As the recent events in Libya showed us, a lot can happen in two weeks,” she said.
Just hours before Parliament’s vote to replace him, gunmen in Tripoli fired at Dbeibah’s convoy in Tripoli.
The Interior Ministry said no one was injured – but there are fears it could be the start of another devastating battle.
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