The Libyan Government of National Unity (GNU), led by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, lost a parliamentary vote of confidence and suddenly found itself in the role of an interim government. In a controversial vote, 89 parliamentarians, out of 113 present, voted to withdraw their support for the GNU. If Dbeibeh did not see it coming, given his repeated feuds with MPs, he was extremely short-sighted.
Following the vote of no confidence, the UN mission in Libya expressed deep concern. Charged with negotiating a political settlement in the war-torn country and fearing a resumption of conflict, the mission posted a statement on its website stressing that the GNU “remains the legitimate government” in Libya until it is terminated. replaced “after the elections”. This was clearly a preventive UN measure to deter any attempt by local actors to replace the government, a move that could undo the entire political process in the country.
However, parliament has so far not discussed plans to replace the government or prime minister until appropriate elections are held later this year.
The GNU was agreed during the UN-sponsored political dialogue in February in Geneva, following marathon talks that brought together political actors, civil society and Libyan tribal leaders. The group of 75 interlocutors also produced a roadmap which effectively set the government’s agenda and outlined its main tasks and objectives until the legislative and presidential elections scheduled for December 24. Yet the GNU is apparently busy with other issues.
READ: Law on presidential elections and loss of confidence in government are triggers for unrest in Libya
While all political actors in Libya have welcomed the elections, they now disagree on the legal framework and constitutional basis for the votes to take place. A law governing the presidential election was passed by the Tobruk-based parliament, but it was rejected by the State Supreme Council in Tripoli, again calling the elections into question.
Instead of renewing ties with MPs, Dbeibeh opted for the vote of confidence. Among other complaints, many MPs voiced opposition to his plans while others questioned his budget allocations. They rightly point out that the GNU is supposed to focus on three main objectives: unifying government institutions, shared between East and West since 2014; improving public services; and the organization of elections. Nothing essential has been done on any of them; it is not always the fault of the government, but more importantly.
Instead, Dbeibeh pledged big spending plans for local governments across Libya despite his budget proposals being twice rejected by parliament. He went further by signing multi-billion dollar reconstruction agreements with countries like Turkey and, more recently, Egypt.
The latest wave of spending proposed by the GNU saw nearly one billion Libyan dinars (about $ 200 million) allocated as a “wedding gift” in the form of government donations to help thousands of young Libyans get married . Most of them cannot afford to get married in this conservative society. Thousands of people have already benefited from this generosity, but not everyone is happy. Many MPs and members of the public believe this is a waste of money and likely to lead to more social and legal problems. In a country where document forgery is rife, some people may take the opportunity to get the promised 40,000 LYD (about $ 9,000) without getting married. Others could divorce after receiving the gift. MP Asma Al-Khoja criticized the government and called on parliament to overturn what she called “an immoral decision”. Faced with public outcry from potential beneficiaries, Al-Khoja justified his use of the word “immoral” because it prioritizes money over “creating a family”.
GNU’s economic policy is chaotic to say the least. This government is not supposed to “undertake major reconstruction projects or launch new ones,” according to micro-economist Saleh Amar, from Zawia University. He believes government donations are both counterproductive and discriminatory, as the majority of Libyans “face economic hardship”, not just those who wish to get married. He suspects that the prime minister is “trying to bribe” young people and is therefore campaigning, albeit indirectly, for the December elections.
READ: Are the Libyan people ready to decide their future?
In fact, many observers believe Dbeibeh is trying to hang on to power for at least six months by postponing the elections. This, said an economist speaking on condition of anonymity, will give him time to get his hands on more money for the benefit of “himself and those close to him”.
However, the UN-sponsored roadmap for Dbeibeh to be prime minister states that neither he nor any member of his cabinet can run in the December elections. Breaking this condition will open the door for others to break the deal, which is already very fragile in many ways.
The GNU has so far made no progress towards unifying the armed forces or the security apparatus across Libya. The militias still dominate the capital Tripoli, despite the government’s claims of an improvement in the security situation and its control over all armed groups. Earlier in September, fighting broke out south of Tripoli between a militia allied with the Defense Ministry and another group believed to be part of the Interior Ministry.
As the election date draws closer, the GNU appears to be moving further away from its top priorities, with the organization of parliamentary and presidential elections leading the way. Last week, Dbeibeh decided to revise the Libyan citizenship law, a controversial and inappropriate move. Anything that emerges from this review is very unlikely to become law before the December elections, assuming, of course, that the Libyan people actually go to the polls. Once again, Dbeibeh seems more concerned with his own popularity than with what, as prime minister, he is mandated to do.
The opinions expressed in this article are the property of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.