Libya parliament withdraws support for unity government

The vote places Libya's fragile new government in danger of collapse

Aguila Saleh Issa (C), speaker of Libya's fomerly-Tobruk-based House of Representatives which was elected in 2014, chairs the first session for the assembly at its new headquarters in the second city of Benghazi in the eastern part of the country controlled by strongman Khalifa Haftar, on April 13, 2019.  / AFP / Abdullah DOMA
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Libya's parliament on Tuesday passed a vote of no confidence in the war-scarred country's unity government, dealing another blow to UN-backed peace efforts and plans for December elections.

Eighty-nine of the 113 members who attended the lower house session in the eastern city of Tobruk voted to withdraw support from the Tripoli-based administration of interim Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, spokesman Abdallah Bliheq said.

But an upper house based in the capital rejected the vote, saying it breached established procedures.

The moves laid bare once more the extent of divisions between the country's east and west.

The latest escalation came amid tensions between the House of Representatives and Mr Dbeibah's government, which took office earlier this year with a mandate to guide the North African country to elections on December 24.

Those polls look increasingly unlikely to happen, casting doubts on a UN-led process aimed at ending a decade of violence since the fall of dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

Tuesday's lower house vote, in a closed session overseen by Speaker Aguila Saleh, came less than two weeks after he outraged opponents by ratifying an electoral law seen as bypassing due process and favouring eastern-based Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

While the UN-led peace process has led to a period of calm, wrangling over electoral laws and the presence of foreign forces have complicated moves towards a more permanent peace.

Parliament spokesman Mr Bliheq said the Cabinet would become "a caretaker government", although it would not be replaced.

But the High Council of State, the parliament's upper house based in Tripoli, quickly rejected that.

"Our objective is to hold elections," the council's chief, Khalid Al Mishri, told journalists after meeting Morocco's chief diplomat Nasser Bourita during a visit to Rabat.

"We don't want to place so much importance on things that could get in the way of that goal. This government will keep working until December 24, and we must ensure conditions that allow for elections to be held."

A spokesman for the High Council also said Tuesday's vote contravened an agreement signed in the Moroccan town of Skheirat in 2015.

A parliamentary source in the eastern city of Benghazi said the vote had passed with only 113 votes, despite parliamentary rules requiring a quorum of 120 members of the 200-seat house.

The High Council had also on Monday rejected the presidential election law announced earlier this month, saying it had been passed "without a legal vote or consensus" and calling for presidential elections to be postponed for a year.

Critics of the law have pointed to a clause stipulating that military officials may stand in presidential polls on condition they withdraw from their posts three months beforehand.

That would allow for a presidential run by Field Marshal Haftar, who is allied with the legislature's Speaker Saleh and whose forces control eastern Libya as well as parts of the south.

Mr Dbeibah's transitional administration, the product of UN-led talks in Tunis and Geneva, had won a lower house vote of confidence in March but has irked members of that chamber - which has so far not held a vote on his budget.

On Monday it had set up a commission of enquiry to examine deals Mr Dbeibah had signed, his expenses and nominations by his government.

Mohamed Eljarh, a consultant at Libya Outlook, tweeted that Tuesday's no-confidence vote was "a major escalation" by the parliament at a "critical juncture" that would "add to the confusion and uncertainty" in Libya.

Updated: September 21, 2021, 6:43 PM