Libya’s opposing sides meet to select new transitional government

UN acting envoy to Libya, Stephanie Williams, at talks held near Geneva, on 1 February 2021. Credit: UN / Violaine Martin

Delegates from Libya’s rival factions met near Geneva on Monday to select the leaders of a new transitional government in the latest step towards reuniting the fractured country.

The Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) kicked-off five days of meetings, overseen by the UN, in an undisclosed location outside Geneva to select an interim prime minister and a three-person presidency council who will oversee preparations for an election at the end of the year.

The establishment of a new government aims to bring stability to the country after a decade of conflict and unrest following the fall of Col Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, and end the turmoil caused by rival administrations in the east and west backed by military and foreign powers. Since 2014, the country has been split between the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli, which is backed by Turkey, and the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA), backed by the United Arab Emirates, Russia and Egypt.

However, there are concerns over whether the winning candidates voted for by the UN-selected LPDF will be accepted by these rival regimes. New rumours of bribery have also emerged, and the possibility of brokered-deals between delegates from the east and west could compromise the process.

Voting starts but uncertainty remains. Participants in the talks approved a list of candidates to lead a transitional government on Sunday, and voting is now taking place under the mediation of the UN secretary-general's acting special representative for Libya Stephanie Williams.

“Reaching this far and achieving this progress in the political dialogue has been an arduous journey fraught with challenges,” Williams said at the opening meeting on Monday. “Indeed, a year ago, this would not have been possible.”

Participants of the LPDF, which is made up of representatives of the country's main political factions, have also agreed that a national referendum would be held on constitutional arrangements to lay the foundations for elections on 24 December, to coincide with Libyan Independence Day.

Twenty-four candidates are running for posts within the three-person presidential council, and 21 for prime minister, including Fathi Bashaga, the interior minister in Tripoli, and Ahmed Meitig, deputy prime minister of the UN-supported government.

Front-runner Bashaga said the transitional government should be one of national unity that brings all Libyans together. “The new Libya cannot wait any longer. We are one kilometre away from a successful ending of a long hectic process. Failure is definitely not an option, ” he tweeted Sunday.

The prime minister is to be chosen by the candidate winning 70 per cent of votes. This high requirement and the number of candidates has prompted concern that there may be some difficulties forming a cabinet and that foreign powers with a presence in Libya may try to interfere. There are also fears that competition for posts could trigger new fighting, and risk unravelling the ceasefire that has been in place since October.

“This project is not about power sharing or dividing the cake,” said Williams. “Rather, it is to form a temporary government composed of patriots who agree to shoulder and share the responsibility to put Libyan sovereignty and the security, prosperity and welfare of the Libyan people above narrow interests and far from the spectre of foreign interference.”