Libya forum elects new transitional government

Elections of the Libyan Prime Minister and members of the Presidency Council during the Libyan Politicial Dialogue Forum. 5 February 2021. (Credit: UN Photo / Violaine Martin)

A United Nations-led forum of delegates from Libya’s rival factions has elected a new interim government to oversee preparations for elections next year in a bid to bring an end to decades of turmoil in the country.

Seventy-four members of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF), which is made up of Libyans from different political backgrounds, cast their votes on Friday to select a prime minister and three presidency council members to lead an interim government until elections are held in December.

Abdul Hamid Dbeibah from Misrata in northwest Libya has been selected as prime minister of the Presidency Council and Mohammed al-Manfi, a former ambassador to Greece from eastern Libya, has been chosen as president. Musa al-Koni from the south and Abdullah al-Lafi from the west were elected as council members.

“The importance of the decision that you have taken here today will grow with the passage of time in the collective memory of the Libyan people,” said Stephanie Williams, the UN secretary-general's acting special representative for Libya, in a statement. “You overcame your differences, divisions and the many challenges you have faced during this difficult, but fruitful journey, in the interests of your country and of the Libyan people.”

The vote was part of a UN-facilitated peacemaking process aimed at bringing peace to the fractured country by holding elections in December. Libya has been wracked by conflict since the NATO-backed intervention that ended Muammar Gaddafi’s four-decade rule in 2011. Since 2014, the country has been split between warring administrations in the west and east, backed by foreign powers: 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.

Candidates for the four roles have spent the past week addressing the LPDF in live-streamed sessions before being grouped into four lists, each comprising a candidate for prime minister and three for a presidency council. When none of the four lists secured the required 60 per cent of votes needed to win the first ballot outright, the two leading groups were put to a second vote. The whole process was broadcast live by the UN to ensure transparency, with up to one million viewers tuning in, according to Williams.

Interim prime minister Dbeibah, who has a relatively low political profile, beat the GNA’s powerful interior minister Fathi Bashagha by 39 votes to 34 in a victory that drew some surprise.

Addressing the LPDF earlier this week, Dbeibeh said he wanted to focus on uniting and restructuring the country's military and set up a ministry for national reconciliation and reparation. “Libyan people want to live,” he said.

The unsuccessful candidates for the presidency council were Aguila Saleh from the east of the country who ran for president, and Osama Abdul Salam Juwaili and Abdul Majeed Ghaith Seif Al-Nasr who ran as council members.

All candidates have agreed to hold national presidential and parliamentary elections on 24 December in which they will not stand for office. They also have pledged to appoint women to 30 per cent of government roles as part of a mandate to form a government “which is representative of all Libyans”, Williams noted.

However, there are concerns over whether the new government, voted for by the UN-selected LPDF, will be accepted by the rival regimes in the country who are unwilling to surrender their influence. There are also worries that foreign powers will not relinquish their hold on their local allies, meaning the interim government would rapidly come under pressure.

Within 21 days, the prime minister must form his cabinet and present his programme of work. Alongside overseeing election preparations, Williams stated the priorities of the interim government must be to launch a national reconciliation process and “fully support and implement the ceasefire agreement” which has been in place since October. The agreement stipulates the withdrawal of all foreign forces, however the country remains full of foreign troops and there are doubts whether the ceasefire will hold.

The UN and LPDF will continue to oversee the process. “The Libyan Political Dialogue Forum has not completed its tasks,” said Williams. “You have demonstrated your political strength throughout this process, and you must continue to work in the same spirit to ensure that the aspirations and clear demands of the Libyan people do not remain unfulfilled and unanswered.”