CAIRO (AP) — Libya’s east-based parliament on Thursday appointed a new prime minister, a development that counters U.N. efforts to reconcile the divided country and will likely produce two parallel administrations.
The House of Representatives said its decision followed the incumbent premier’s failure to hold national elections in December, something that was agreed to under a U.N.-mediated peace process. The delay has been a major blow to international efforts to end a decade of chaos in the oil-rich North African nation.
East-based lawmakers named Thursday former Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha to replace Abdul Hamid Dbeibah as head of a new interim government, according to the parliament spokesman, Abdullah Bliheg.
In an television interview late Thursday, Dbeibah maintained that his government would not leave power without first overseeing national elections. He repeatedly warned against what he called attempts to reignite the country's conflict.
At the United Nations, reporters pressed spokesman Stephane Dujarric, about the appointment and which Libyan prime minister the U.N. recognizes. Dujarric confirmed that it was still Dbeibah but that U.N. special advisor on Libya, Stephanie Williams, was “back in Tripoli, where she is engaging with critical stakeholders in Libya to facilitate an agreement on a path forward.”
"We are trying to get details of the decision made by the other legislative body,” Dujarric said.
Thursday's appointment is expected to deepen divisions between rival factions in the country. Libya has been wrecked by conflict since the NATO-backed uprising toppled then killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. The country has for years been split between rival administrations in the east and west, each supported by militias and foreign governments.
Arriving at Tripoli’s Mitiga Airport late Thursday, Bashagha thanked Dbeibah for having taken "responsibility in sensitive times.”
"Today we begin a new national page titled peace and love, there is no place for hatred,” he said.
A former air force pilot and businessman, Bashagha submitted his candidacy for the presidency last year. The 59-year-old politician stands as a powerful figure in Libya. During his tenure as interior minister from 2018 until early 2021, he cultivated ties with Turkey, France and the United States, but also with Egypt and Russia, which backed his nominal rivals in the intra-Libyan conflict.
He is also believed to have links to armed militias in the western city of Misrata that played a key role in defending the capital against a 2019 military offensive from the east. That offensive was led by the self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces, commanded by the east-based powerful Khalifa Hifter.
Hifter's forces welcomed Bashagha's appointment. Egypt, an ally of Hifter, praised the lawmaking body for fufilling its duty.
During Thursday’s session, held in the eastern Libyan city of Tobruk, lawmakers also voted in favor of a set of constitutional amendments that put forward a new roadmap for transition to a democratically elected government. The amendments envisage the creation of a new electoral commission and the appointment of a 24-member committee, representing the country’s all three regions, to draft a new constitution.
Under the plan, Bashagha's government is expected to hold presidential elections within 14 months.
Elections meant to be held on Dec. 24 were postponed over disputes between the rival factions on laws governing the elections and controversial presidential contestants. East-based lawmakers have argued that the mandate of Dbeibah’s government ended on that date.
On Wednesday, hundreds took to the streets in Tripoli to protest the parliament’s decision to name a new premier.
In the late-night television interview, Dbeibah said he had survived an assassination attempt during which gunmen opened fire at his car in Tripoli late Wednesday, confirming media reports from earlier in the day. He said an investigation into the attack was ongoing.
Dbeibah, a powerful businessman from Misrata, was appointed prime minister in February last year as part of the U.N.-brokered, Western-backed political process. His government’s main task was to steer the divided country toward national reconciliation.
But he became a polarizing figure since he announced his presidential bid, breaking his pledge not to run in elections when he was appointed as an interim prime minister.
Dbeibah has said that he is now in consultations over a proposal to hold the delayed elections in June. Western governments have urged that the current government remain in place until the vote is held to avoid chaos and confusion.
Associated Press writers Edith M. Lederer and Rami Musa contributed to this report. Lederer reported from the United Nations and Musa from Benghazi.