Libyan delegates choose interim prime minister, presidential council

Mohammad Younes Menfi was chosen to head the three-person Presidential Council. Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah was chosen as interim prime minister.
Friday 05/02/2021
Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah delivers a speech via video link during a meeting of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) on February 3, 2021, at an undisclosed location near Geneva. (AFP)
Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah delivers a speech via video link during a meeting of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) on February 3, 2021, at an undisclosed location near Geneva. (AFP)

GENEVA - Delegates from Libya’s warring factions on Friday selected four leaders to guide the North African country through to national elections in December, seen as a major — if uncertain — step toward unifying a nation with two separate governments in the east and west.

In what could become a landmark achievement to end one of the intractable conflicts left behind by the “Arab spring” a decade ago, the 74 delegates chose a list of candidates in a UN-hosted process aimed to give balance to regional powers and various political and economic interests.

Mohammad Younes Menfi, a Libyan diplomat with a support base in the country’s east, was chosen to head the three-person Presidential Council. Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah, a powerful businessman backed by Western tribes, was chosen as interim prime minister.

The UN process, known as the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, was aimed at choosing an interim authority that will oversee Libya as part of an effort to rebuild state institutions and lead to national elections on December 24.

Menfi’s list was elected in a runoff as none of four lists initially proposed secured the required 60% of votes from the delegates in the first round.

Capping a UN-led diplomatic process that began in Berlin in January last year, forum delegates began meeting on Monday in an undisclosed location near Geneva, before reducing their selection to four, then two, and finally one list of candidates for interim prime minister and presidential council on Friday.

The voting took place under the mediation of the UN secretary-general’s acting special representative for Libya, Stephanie Williams, in hopes of bringing stability to a oil-rich North African country that has been largely lawless since longtime ruler Muammar Gadhafi was toppled and killed in 2011 afer a NATO-backed uprising.

“I am pleased to witness this historic moment,” Williams told delegates after the results were announced. “The decision that you have taken today will grow with the passage of time in the collective memory of the Libyan people.”

Williams stressed that the interim government must fully support the ceasefire and uphold the national elections date. She added that the new executive authority must also launch “a comprehensive national reconciliation process.”

Since 2015, Libya has been divided between two governments, one in the east and another in the west of the country, each backed by a vast array of militias.

In April 2019, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA) allied with the eastern government, launched an offensive to capture the capital, Tripoli. His campaign failed after 14 months of fighting. In October, the UN convinced both parties to sign a ceasefire agreement and embark on a political dialogue.

The other list of finalists had gotten the highest number of votes in a previous round. It included Aguila Saleh, the politically savvy speaker of Libya’s eastern parliament who ran to head the council, and Fathi Bashagha, the powerful interior minister in the western government.

On his Twitter page, Bashagha conceded to the winners and hailed the UN-mediated electoral process as “the full embodiment of democracy” — and wished the new government success in running the country.

One of the unknowns for Libya is how the international community — and in particular, as many as nine countries that have backed opposing sides in Libya — will respond to the vote.

The internationally recognised government in Tripoli has had the backing of Turkey and Qatar while Haftar has been supported by countries including Egypt and Russia.

The voting process was aired live on several Libyan television channels and streamed on the UNTV website.