Libya’s western-based upper house on Saturday defended a decision by lawmakers in the country’s east to appoint a new prime minister as institutional chaos prevails.
The High Council of State (HCS) – a Tripoli-based body equivalent to a senate – usually competes with the House of Representatives (HoR), based in the eastern city of Tobruk.
The HoR this week “unanimously” approved former Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha to lead the government, a move that left Libya with two prime ministers and threatened to unleash a new power struggle in the war-torn nation.
But HCS chief Khalid al-Mishri on Saturday seemed to cross the country’s usual east-west divide and distance himself from Tripoli’s executive.
He said a text accompanying last year’s vote of confidence in the interim Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah’s government “provided that its mandate would end no later than December 24, 2021.”
Bashagha’s appointment on Thursday to replace Dbeibah came from that text following a rare “consensus between parliament and the HCS”, al-Mishri added.
An influential figure in western Libya, al-Mishri, accused the Dbeibah government of “campaigning against parliament and the HCS”.
The Dbeibah administration had a mandate to lead the country to elections on December 24, but the elections were canceled due to bitter disagreement over their legal basis and the candidacies of several controversial individuals.
Dbeibah, a building magnate appointed a year ago as part of UN-led peace efforts, has promised that he “would not accept any new transitional phase or parallel authority” and would only hand over power to an elected government.
Bashagha and Dbeibah, both from Libya’s third city of Misrata and both candidates for the interrupted presidential election, have the support of rival armed groups in the West.
On Saturday, a convoy of soldiers moved into Tripoli from the Libyan city of Misrata to support the interim prime minister amid pressure from parliament to oust him in favor of its candidate.
The arrival of the convoy underlined the danger of renewed fighting in Libya as the crisis unfolds, following mobilizations from armed factions that support various political sides in recent weeks.
According to a Reuters witness, Saturday’s convoy, consisting of more than 100 vehicles, arrived after Dbeibah earlier on Saturday accused parliament of being “responsible for all this bloodshed and chaos” in Libya in recent years.
Parliament Speaker Aguila Saleh has accused Dbeibah of corruption and of trying to use her position for her own purposes rather than of making a meaningful transition.
Libya has had some peace since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising against Moammar Gadhafi and has been divided between warring factions in the East and West since 2014.
During the war, the parliament mostly relied on the eastern-based forces of the Putin’s general Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA). The main armed forces from Misrata were on the other side and supported the then internationally recognized government in Tripoli.
Bashagha flew into Tripoli on Thursday night ahead of a two-week government formation process, saying he expected Dbeibah to hand over power peacefully.
Dbeibah has said that next week he will announce his own roadmap for the country, which involves elections this summer.
The position of the United Nations and the great powers will be decisive in determining the outcome of the struggle for the interim government after years of foreign interference in the conflict.
The UN has said it still recognizes the validity of Dbeibah’s GNU and the political process of which it was a part.
But the UN said on Friday that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had noted Parliament’s move to appoint Bashagha, and a move by parliament along with the High State Council to chart a revised path to elections.
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