The Libyan parliament met in the frontline town of Sirte to take a decisive vote on whether to approve a new transitional government to oversee the lengthy elections this year as part of an international peace plan.
More than 130 lawmakers began debating Monday on the approval of the cabinet formed by Abdelhamid Dbeibah, selected as interim prime minister at a United Nations forum in Geneva last month.
His government has the difficult task of leading the country to presidential and parliamentary elections in December, replacing both the United Nations-recognized Tripoli-based government of the National Agreement (GNA) and a rival Eastern administration, that of the breakaway military commander Khalifa Haftar is supported.
The parliament, which has been split between eastern and western factions since shortly after its 2014 election, is not expected to vote on the government until Tuesday at the earliest.
“We will strive to overcome many hurdles and obstacles,” said spokeswoman Aguila Saleh, one of the lost candidates in the Geneva talks for leadership in the interim administration.
Libya fell into chaos after longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown and killed in a 2011 NATO-backed uprising in which rival forces vied for power in the oil-rich North African country.
A process overseen by the United Nations aims to unite the country after a ceasefire last October between forces loyal to the two rival administrations, each backed by foreign powers.
The transitional government faces the daunting challenge of addressing the abuses of Libyans, from severe economic crisis and rising unemployment to crippling inflation and pathetic public services.
Dbeibah, a billionaire businessman, last week put his 33-strong cabinet roster in parliament for approval without publicly disclosing names.
A provisional three-person presidency, chosen last month with Dbeibah, will lead the new unitary administration.
If the MPs do not support the government, a new vote must take place. Dbeibah has until March 19 to get his cabinet approval.
In a televised speech before the vote, Dbeibah urged lawmakers to seize the moment and reaffirm the government.
“I urge MPs not to miss the opportunity to unite Parliament with this meeting today … so that the government can get on with the difficult tasks immediately,” he said.
Al Jazeeras Malik Traina, reporting from Misrata, said the imminent deadline adds more urgency to the Sirte procedure.
If parliament fails to ratify Dbeibeh’s government, the United Nations political forum said it could instead approve the cabinet itself.
“No gasoline, no cash”
The Libyans are hoping for a restoration of basic state services that have been destroyed by years of war and political chaos.
“There is no gasoline, there is no cooking gas, there is no cash,” Mohammed Saleh, 40, a sirte who lives in a city café, told Reuters.
The bombs have not fallen since fighting between the GNA and Haftar’s self-proclaimed Libyan National Army west of Sirte last year, he said. “We hope the government will approve them,” he added.
However, hurdles have emerged in the run-up to the vote, including allegations of vote-buying during the Dbeibah election process. A confidential report by UN experts involves allegations that at least three participants were offered hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in November.
“Obstacles and difficulties arose before the vote of confidence,” said Khaled el-Montasser, professor of international relations. There are “suspicions” about the interim prime minister, he added.
Libyan political analyst Mahmud Khalfallah said Dbeibah’s “political rivals have launched savage campaigns to defame him”.
“They managed to create a climate of tension.”
Libyans have also reached out to social networks to decipher the size of the proposed government. Many criticized Dbeibah’s decision to create a cabinet of 33 ministers and two deputy prime ministers, saying that a government set to rule until December doesn’t have to be big.
Dbeibah defended the move, stating that he wanted to form a government that was “balanced” and “genuinely representative of the entire Libyan people” and the main regions.
To reflect this, seven key portfolios would be given to people from Libya’s three main provinces in the east, west and south. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs would be assigned to the east, the Ministries of Economy, Trade and Justice to the west, and the defense, interior and finance portfolios to the south.
Dbeibah has also defended the “integrity” of the process that led to his election and called for the report alleging corruption to be published.
The report prepared by the UN experts is to be officially presented to the UN Security Council in mid-March.
Some lawmakers have asked to postpone the vote of confidence until the report is published.
And Sirte, where parliament meets, is under the control of pro-Haftar forces, which include foreign combatants and mercenaries.
According to the United Nations, there were around 20,000 mercenaries and foreign fighters in Libya in early December, two months after the ceasefire, and the 23 January deadline to withdraw has passed with no signs of withdrawal.