In the wake of an attempted ouster by parliament, Libya’s embattled Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah said that replacing him could trigger war in the North African country.
Addressing Libyans late Monday, Dbeibah reiterated his insistence that he will hand over power only to an elected government. He mapped out a seemingly unrealistic plan to hold elections in June.
Already plagued by divisions between rival administrations in the east and west, Libya has found itself with two rival prime ministers in Tripoli after missing a crucial deadline for the December elections.
Dbeibah called any effort to install an interim government “reckless” and a "farce” that could lead to more war. He was referring to ongoing efforts by the House of Representatives to confirm a new transitional government chaired by Prime Minister-designate Fathi Bashagha.
“I will not accept by whatever form to hand over (power) to chaos,” he said. An election, he said, "is the sole solution.”
The effort to replace Dbeibah stems from Libya’s failure to hold its first presidential election during his watch. It has been a major blow to international efforts to end a decade of chaos in the oil-rich Mediterranean nation.
The presidential vote was originally planned for Dec. 24, but it was postponed over disputes between rival factions on laws governing the elections and controversial presidential hopefuls. Lawmakers have argued that the mandate of Dbeibah’s government ended on Dec. 24.
The east-based parliament earlier this month named Bashagha, a powerful former interior minister from the western city of Misrata, to form a new interim government. He has to submit his Cabinet to parliament this week. Bashagha’s appointment was part of a roadmap to set elections within the next 14 months.
In an eight-page speech Monday night, Dbeibah mentioned “war” or “wars” eight times. He described parliament’s move as “a failed maneuver” that will trigger “war and chaos.”
Dbeibah said he engaged in negotiations with his rivals to avert the current stalemate but his efforts failed. He accused one rival, putschist Gen. Khalifa Haftar, of inflaming “political chaos” in the country.
There was no immediate comment from Haftar, who led a failed offensive to capture the capital of Tripoli in 2019 from rival militias.
United Nations spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said Tuesday the U.N.’s message is “for Libyan leaders to take decisions through consensus, to establish a framework, and also keep in mind the best interests of the Libyan people, especially those who took the courageous steps of registering to vote.”
He said Stephanie Williams, the secretary-general’s special adviser on Libya, is continuing consultations with Libyan parties and other key players and was in Tunis Monday meeting with some ambassadors.
Dbeibah, who like Bashagha hails from Misrata, proposed a four-point plan to hold a simultaneous parliamentary vote and a referendum on constitutional amendments late in June. That would be followed by a presidential election after the new parliament crafts a permanent constitution. He did not offer a time frame for the presidential election.
In an attempt to court Libyans tired of war and chaos, Dbeibah appealed for what he called “a true national movement” to push for elections.
Anas el-Gomati, director of the Libyan think tank Sadeq Institute, said Dbeibah’s road map mirrors the deep political dispute. It is mainly designated to remove powerful Parliament Speaker Aguila Saleh, he said. Saleh is one of Dbeibah's fiercest rivals and the main force behind replacing his government.
“If Bashagha attempts to force through another parallel administration, allied to Haftar, war could break out (and) that would further delay elections,” he said.
Libya has been unable to hold elections since its disputed legislative vote in 2014, which caused the county to split for years between rival administrations, each backed by armed militias and foreign governments.
The oil-rich North African nation has been wracked by conflict since the NATO-backed uprising toppled then killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.