Fathi Bashagi is the new Prime Minister of Libya
On February 13, Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General for Libya, Stephanie Williams, called on Libyans to hold free and fair elections as soon as possible, and to maintain stability in Tripoli and throughout the country. A day earlier, she held meetings in the Libyan capital with the head of the Government of National Unity (GNU), Abdel Hamid Dbeiba, and Prime Minister Fathi Bashaga, appointed this week by parliamentarians. According to Williams, with the first she discussed the vote in the House of Representatives (the elected parliament) on the approval of amendments to the constitution and the election of a new head of the Cabinet.
The fact of the meeting speaks of the actual stake of the UN (and the US) on Bashaga, who on February 10 was elected by the majority of votes of the House of Representatives as the new prime minister. Former interior minister in the Government of National Accord Faiza Sarraja (now dissolved), who previously ran in the presidential elections that have not yet taken place, became the only candidate for the post of head of government. Two other contenders, including former Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Maytig, have dropped their premiership.
The Libyan National Army, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, also supported the approval of Prime Minister Bashagi, which threatens to provoke a new round of internal conflict in the country and again lead to dual power. Earlier, the incumbent Prime Minister Dbeiba himself repeatedly warned about this, who repeatedly stated that he did not intend to resign and transfer the reins of government to a successor without a general election. He compared Bashagi’s arrival in Tripoli “to an invasion”.
But the Libyan parliament, which is based in Tobruk, considered that Dbeiba’s time had expired. He came to power under a UN-brokered power-sharing agreement with a mandate to organize elections in the country last December. Those efforts collapsed when Libyan elites squabbled over electoral laws and the constitutional framework for voting. The emergence of controversial candidates such as LNA commander Khalifa Haftar, Seif al-Islam Gaddafi, and A.H. Dbeiba himself, who took office after promising not to participate in the elections, further confused the situation.
The head of the GNU, at a meeting with Williams, as reported by his press service, pointed to the “need to complete the road map approved in Geneva”, recalling the “responsibility of all parties to create the proper conditions for organizing elections and a referendum on the constitution during the current year.” Fathi Bashaga uses an exclusively conciliatory tone in his articles and interviews, and, speaking at a press conference after landing in Tripoli, vowed: “there will be no room for revenge in the new Libyan government.” However, even if he manages to keep his post without armed clashes, the task of fulfilling the “UN electoral road map” will be extremely difficult. So far, Bashaga has promised to form a new Government of National Unity in no more than two weeks and ensure that national elections are held in 14 months.
Critics of the politician say that the decision to appoint him as prime minister will do little to prepare the ground for elections and is only fraught with a new cycle of political chaos. Supporters note that Bashaga, the leader from Tripolitania, received a vote of confidence in Cyrenaica and was able to freely travel to the country’s capital. His nomination could give the two regions a chance to unite around a single candidate and diplomatically withdraw support for Dbeiba, who failed to deliver on his election promise last year.
Almost all analysts agree that a lot will depend on how Bashaga successfully maneuvers in the coming days, trying to form a government. He can count on the support of Haftar’s foreign patrons — the UAE, Egypt and France. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry said on February 11 that it welcomed the new government. The UN, which had pushed for elections in Libya, is now at the center of a standoff between the two prime ministers. The Secretary General urged “all parties to continue maintaining stability in Libya as a top priority” and said he “took note of the vote” by the Libyan parliament to appoint Bashagi as prime minister. Judging by the statements of S.Williams after the meeting with Bashaga, the UN has already made up its mind, and now it is offering Dbeiba a worthy way out.