Libya's western-based upper house on Saturday defended a decision by lawmakers in the country's east to designate a new prime minister as institutional chaos reigns.
The High Council of State (HCS) – a Tripoli-based body that is equivalent to a senate – usually rivals the House of Representatives (HoR), based in the eastern city of Tobruk.
The HoR this week "unanimously approved" former Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha to head the government, a move that left Libyans with two prime ministers and threatened to spark a new power struggle in the war-torn nation.
But HCS head Khalid al-Mishri on Saturday appeared to transcend the country's usual east-west divide and distance himself from the Tripoli executive.
He said a text accompanying last year's confidence vote in the government of interim Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah "stipulated that its mandate would end at the latest on Dec. 24, 2021."
Bashagha's designation Thursday replacing Dbeibah flowed from that text following a rare "consensus between parliament and the HCS," al-Mishri added.
An influential figure in western Libya, al-Mishri accused Dbeibah's government of "fueling a campaign against the parliament and the HCS."
Dbeibah's administration had a mandate to lead the country to elections on Dec. 24, but the polls were canceled amid bitter divisions over their legal basis and the candidacies of several controversial figures.
Dbeibah, a construction tycoon appointed a year ago as part of United Nations-led peace efforts, has vowed he would "accept no new transitional phase or parallel authority" and would only hand over power to an elected government.
Bashagha and Dbeibah, both from Libya's third city Misrata and both candidates for the aborted presidential poll, have the support of rival armed groups in the west.
On Saturday, a convoy of fighters moved into Tripoli from the Libyan city of Misrata to shore up the interim prime minister amid a push by the parliament to oust him in favor of its candidate.
The convoy's arrival underscored the danger of renewed fighting in Libya as the crisis plays out, following mobilizations by armed factions backing different political sides in recent weeks.
According to a Reuters witness, Saturday's convoy, comprising more than 100 vehicles, arrived after Dbeibah earlier on Saturday accused the parliament of being "responsible for all this bloodshed and chaos" in Libya over recent years.
Parliament Speaker Aguila Saleh has accused Dbeibah of corruption and of seeking to use his position for his own ends rather than to effect a meaningful transition.
Libya has had little peace since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising against Moammar Gadhafi and since 2014 has been split between warring factions in the east and west.
During the war, the parliament mostly sided with the eastern-based forces of putschist Gen. Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA). The main armed forces from Misrata were on the other side, backing the then-internationally recognized government in Tripoli.
Bashagha flew into Tripoli on Thursday night ahead of a two-week government formation process and said he expected Dbeibah to hand over power peacefully.
Dbeibah has said he will next week announce his own road map for the country involving elections this summer.
The position of the United Nations and major powers will be critical in determining the outcome of the struggle over the interim government after years of foreign involvement in the conflict.
The U.N. has said it still recognizes the validity of Dbeibah's GNU and the political process it was part of.
However, the U.N. said on Friday that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has taken note of the move by parliament to appoint Bashagha, and a move by parliament along with the High State Council to chart out a revised path toward elections.