The Lowdown Hub

Libya’s parliament appoints new prime ministerMove could create two rival leaders and delay UN pla

Fathi Bashagha, centre, was appointed prime minister on Thursday by the House of Representatives, which is based in the east © Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty

Libya’s parliament has appointed a new prime minister in a deal that could produce two rival administrations and deliver a setback to UN plans to unite the North African country.

Fathi Bashagha was appointed prime minister on Thursday by the House of Representatives, which is based in Tobruk in the east, amid frustration stemming from the UN-recognised government in Tripoli failing to hold December elections.

Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, the interim prime minister of the Government of National Unity in Tripoli, has rejected Bashagha’s appointment and refuses to step down until elections have taken place. This raises the possibility of two rival leaders vying to rule the country.

Dbeibeh’s government replaced two opposing administrations in the east and west of the country that has been divided since 2014. His main task as GNU prime minister was to organise the vote for the president and new parliament.

The UN and western governments had hoped the December elections would help turn a corner in a country where militias have held sway for most of the past decade and foreign governments have engaged in proxy wars by sending arms and mercenaries. But the December poll was delayed because of disputes about eligibility after the emergence of divisive candidates such as Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of the former dictator.

Bashagha, an influential politician from western Libya, now has the backing of powerful figures in eastern Libya, most notably Khalifa Haftar, the military man who controls the east and who launched a failed military offensive in 2019 to seize control of the entire country.

Bashagha still has to form a government that will be submitted to a vote of confidence in the parliament within two weeks.

“One question now is whether Bashagha can actually take over because if not then we are in a situation of a parallel government,” said Wolfram Lacher, Libya analyst at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

He argued that while militias in western Libya would not fight to defend Dbeibeh, they would be suspicious of any arrangement that gives significant influence to Haftar, who laid siege to the capital for almost a year during his failed offensive.

After his nomination by parliament in the east, Bashagha flew back to Tripoli on Thursday night and has faced no resistance from militias there.

Egypt, Libya’s neighbour that backed Haftar in his attempt to seize the country, has already signalled its support in a foreign ministry statement that praised the parliament for “the measures it took” and for meeting its responsibilities.

Bashagha has agreed to a road map leading to elections in 14 months and has promised not to run for office. “His main objective is the elections and he will fight for them,” said Mohammed al-Mesri, an adviser to Bashagha.

But Claudia Gazzini, senior Libya analyst at the International Crisis Group, said this dealmaking between power brokers was “a way of putting things off” and could see elections postponed by at least two years. She argued that parliament did not have the authority to appoint a new prime minister and that the “legal messiness” of the arrangement could open the way to challenges in the courts, hampering a return to stability.