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Prime ministerial fight takes country back to the brink

A disputed vote in the Tobruk parliament leaves the country, once again, with two rival governments

In a point-blank challenge to Prime Minister Abdel Hamid Dubaiba's government in Tripoli, the parliament in the eastern city of Tobruk, the House of Representatives (HoR), endorsed a new government on 1 March to be led by former interior minister Fathi Bashagha (AC Vol 63 No 1, Political leaders versus the polls).

Some observers cited irregularities in the Tobruk vote. Video footage suggested that fewer than half the 200 members had voted, which is short of a quorum, according to UN advisor Stephanie Williams and foreign diplomats. It followed the indefinite postponement of fresh parliamentary elections due in December.

Williams had said that the confidence vote on a prime minister should be 'consensual', transparent and meet legal requirements.

Prime Minister Dubaiba has refused to recognise the Tobruk vote and Bashagha's claims on government. It divides the country again into rival camps, risking a return to the stand–off and fighting between the UN–backed government of Faiez el Serraj and the HoR–backed General Khalifa Haftar.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the vote 'fell short of the expected standards of transparency and procedures and included acts of intimidation prior to the session'.

On 4 March, Williams offered to mediate, urging the HoR and Tripoli–based High Council of State (HCS) to nominate six delegates each to form a 'joint committee dedicated to developing a consensual constitutional basis'.

Tensions have been rising sharply this month. An armed group kidnapped foreign minister Hafed Gaddur and technical education minister Faraj Khalil when they were en route to Bashagha's swearing–in in Tobruk. Although Bashagha's office reported they had been released by the end of the week. 

Most foreign powers have declined to take sides so far. Russia is the only state to recognise the Bashagha government. Last year, Moscow supported Gen Haftar's military campaign against the Tripoli government, which was backed by Turkey.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine and ensuing geopolitical split could further complicate Libya's fractious politics.

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