Libya’s government in waiting

Kamel Abdallah , Wednesday 10 Mar 2021

Though two days of intensive talks failed to bring approval to Libya’s new government, lawmakers have no choice but to come to an agreement

Libya’s government in waiting
Libyan parliament meet to approve the new government (photo: Reuters)

As Al-Ahram Weekly went to press this week, it was still uncertain whether the National Unity Government proposed by Libyan Prime Minister-designate Abdul- Hamid Dbeiba would win a vote of confidence in Libya’s House of Representatives (HoR), which has convened with a quorum for the first time since 2014.

 Differences over the agenda strained the atmosphere in the hall where the representatives assembled in Sirte, while remarks by HoR Speaker Aguila Saleh suggested that the House might send the proposal back to Dbeiba for changes.

The HoR meeting in Sirte was attended by 132 representatives who had flown in from different parts of the country on Saturday and Sunday for the session dedicated to deliberating and voting on Dbeiba’s slate of ministers.

The prime minister designate submitted his list of 35 nominees drawn from the 13 electoral districts in the country. The previous week he had announced that the government would consist of only 27 portfolios. Saleh blamed the expanded list on representatives who had pressured the prime minister to include individuals from their “marginalised” regions.

“It is an embarrassing and difficult situation when some representatives have regrettably intervened to have some of their relatives appointed to ministries,” Saleh told the chamber before it recessed on Monday evening.

He said that if lawmakers wanted a smaller government, they should let the prime minister nominate a single minister for each district “according to his judgement” and submit his list to the House for its observations and vote of confidence.

On the other hand, if they wanted an expanded government, it would have to meet the criteria of the equitable distribution of sovereign and service ministries across districts, he said. He asked the House to submit observations on the proposed list to the prime minister and to give him the chance to amend it in order to avoid mistakes that had occurred with previous governments.

If the House does as Saleh suggests, namely returns the list to Dbeiba so that he can whittle down the number of portfolios and change his appointments, this could take time and disrupt the timetable for the roadmap for the interim phase.

The Libyan representatives had not resolved contentions over the session’s agenda by Monday. Before they arrived in Sirte, 42 of them had called for the vote of confidence to be postponed pending the formal adoption of the outputs of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) in connection with the UN-sponsored roadmap.

This would avert any legal challenges to the legitimacy of the anticipated National Unity Government that could jeopardise the political process, they said.

The representatives maintain that the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) signed by the main Libyan factions in Skhirat, Morocco, in 2015 needs to be amended because it includes names from the outgoing Presidency Council headed by former prime minister Fayez Al-Sarraj.

The LPA, which created the former executive, is a main frame-of-reference for the political process. The representatives argued that unless the LPA is amended constitutionally, the new Presidency Council and government will not be able to carry out their duties without legal challenge.

Other representatives, including the House speaker, do not feel such a step is required and that it will be sufficient for the lawmakers to give the new government a vote of confidence. Some observers believe this position is partly motivated by fears that the formal inclusion of the outputs of the LPDF in the Libyan Constitutional Declaration will sanction the addition of a second legislative body, the LPDF, to the legislative authority.

Dbeiba’s cabinet list names mayor of Benghazi Saqr Boujwari and Ramadan Boujnah Al-Hasnawi as the country’s two deputy prime ministers. It also proposes Khaled Mazen as deputy minister of interior and for the first time in Libyan history a woman, Lamia Abu Sidra from Benghazi, as minister of foreign affairs.

Dbeiba has reserved for himself the sensitive defence portfolio.

Before the HoR assembled, Dbeiba appealed to members to let the national interest prevail over personal considerations and not to defer the vote of confidence. He said there was a need to enable the government to begin work immediately and not to obstruct the path to free-and-fair elections, as envisioned by the Geneva Conference.

Describing the task of selecting his slate of ministers as “harder than climbing a steep mountain,” Dbeiba said he had taken pains to ensure an acceptable balance among “the diverse components of the current political and security scene” in the country.

The lawmakers have not yet determined whether they will proceed with a vote of confidence or whether they will move to amend the Constitutional Declaration first in order to avert possible legal challenges to the interim government.

The latter course, favoured by the High Council of State (HCS), would be a complex process that could further cloud the situation and derail the interim phase roadmap approved by the LPDF.

The UN has not presented possible alternatives for averting such an impasse and ensuring the integrity of the political process and the formation of a government of uncontested legitimacy able to do its work without obstructions.

It appears that the UN plan has entered a difficult period and may require some further international initiatives to help the process move forward. The EU has already stepped forward with a proposal for a national reconciliation process that a high-level EU delegation brought with it in a visit to Tripoli on Monday.

According to the Libyan Foreign Ministry, the EU delegation met with Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Siala to “present the broad outlines of a European project for reconciliation at the local and national level that in future could serve as a basis for a roadmap assisted by the UN and other international agencies and that is based on linking development and security and preventing the outbreak of disputes, reinforcing an inclusive democratic system” in the country.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 11 March, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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