Libya’s parliament ousted the country’s prime minister-elect in a no-confidence vote on Sunday, the latest blow to hopes that political factions could agree on a government charged with restoring stability after last year’s civil war.
Libyan prime minister-elect Mustafa Abushagur was the first prime minister to be elected after the overthrow of former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi last year. He represented an offshoot of the country’s oldest anti-Qaddafi opposition movement and was considered a compromise candidate acceptable to both liberals and Islamists.
However, his proposed Cabinet was struck down by a legislature representing dozens of divided tribes, towns and regions across the country, many of whom feel they are owed the spoils of victory over Qaddafi. He was forced to withdraw his first ministerial line-up under pressure and his second attempt to submit one resulted in his ouster.
In a short statement on Libya al-Wataniya TV after the vote, Abushagur said he respected the decision made by the Libyan General National Congress as part of Libya’s democracy, but warned of instability if it takes too long to elect his replacement.
He had 25 days from his Sept. 12 appointment by parliament to form a Cabinet and win the legislature’s approval, but that deadline expired on Sunday. The Congress voted 125 to 44 in favor of removing him, with 17 abstaining. He had just put forth 10 names for key ministerial posts when the no-confidence vote was held.
Until a replacement can be elected by the parliament, management of Libya’s government is in the hands of the legislature.
The congress will have to vote on a new prime minister in the coming weeks. The incoming leader will be responsible for rebuilding Libya’s army and police force and removing major pockets of support for the former regime.
On Sunday, about 1,000 people protested in the capital Tripoli outside the congressional headquarters to demand that militias operating alongside the army end a partial siege of the town of Bani Walid, considered a major stronghold of former regime loyalists. They called for a peaceful solution to the standoff.
Perhaps the single greatest challenge facing any new Libyan leader is the proliferation of former rebel militias. One radical Islamist group has been linked to the attack last month on the US consulate in Benghazi that killed the US ambassador and three others.
There has been a widespread popular backlash against militias since that attack and the Libyan government has taken advantage of it to try to put some armed groups under the authority of military officers.
Any prime minister who wants to impose his authority on the militias will need broad national support — but such support is hard to get.
Some parliamentarians said that Abushagur’s Cabinet list was not diverse enough and involved too many unknown individuals for key posts. His first proposed Cabinet makeup was also criticized for including too many names from the previous interim government, seen by some Libyans as corrupt.
After 40 years of Qaddafi’s divide-and-rule tactics and last year’s war, Libya’s towns, tribes and regions are highly polarized. Many feel entitled to high government positions because of their losses in the war.
In an indication of the charged atmosphere, Abushagur withdrew the initial line-up for government after the parliamentary chamber was stormed on Thursday by protesters from the city of Zawiya — one of several cities that took the brunt of Qaddafi’s attacks during the war — demanding representation. Lawmakers left the General National Congress floor, saying they would not vote under pressure.
Independent Libyan lawmaker Nizar Kawan, who is aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya, said the Islamist group’s party and a liberal coalition led by former Libyan rebel prime minister Mahmoud Jibril had been holding talks about replacing Abushagur with an independent figure who has no political background.
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