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Libya's Prime Ministerial Mess

On Sunday, May 4, Libya's parliament voted to appoint Ahmad Mitig, a businessman who hails from the powerful city of Misrata, prime minister -- only for his appointment to be dismissed by the first deputy parliament speaker just a few hours later. This weekend's events are an accurate reflection of the state of confusion and uncertainty that has plagued Libyan politics since the revolution.

A vote to select a new prime minister was disrupted on Tuesday, April 29, when armed men stormed the headquarters of the General National Congress (GNC), Libya's legislative body, and clashed with security guards in an attempt to influence the selection process and the structure of the next prime minister's government, using armed intimidation techniques targeting Libya's politicians. Mitig's rival for the seat was Omar al-Hassi, an academic from Benghazi, in eastern Libya -- but Mitig was the favorite to win because he secured support from various political blocs within the GNC. The only obstacle facing Mitig and any potential prime minister was the 120 votes required to win the parliament's confidence and be asked to form a government. (In the photo above, Libyan journalists watch live coverage of the GNC's vote.)

In the first round of voting, the hopeful prime minister secured the votes of 73 members of the 152 present, while his rival won 43 votes. Thirty-six members abstained. Having won that round, Mitig was just one vote away from becoming Libya's prime minister; he still had to secure the 120 votes in order to be granted confidence to form a new government. He only secured 113 votes. Mitig's supporters starting chanting, causing chaos in the GNC hall. The first deputy parliament speaker, who was chairing the session, declared the session over and left. Mitig's supporters insisted on continuing the session and urged the second deputy to continue with the session.

By the end of the session, Saleh Makhzoom, the second deputy GNC president, claimed that Mitig had secured 121 votes after absent members joined the session to cast their votes in support of Mitig. He was then asked to form a government within two weeks. This irregular third vote has now sparked a dispute over the legality and constitutionality of Mitig's appointment, setting Mitig on a rocky path from the start due to the GNC's incompetence. Mitig's supporters insist it was legal, though the first deputy parliament speaker declared the vote invalid and illegal a few hours after the session closed. Meanwhile, GNC member Ahmed Langi, part of the congress's constitutional and legal affairs committee, stated that the members followed the correct procedures in the voting session that secured Mitig 121 votes.

The parliament can resolve this dispute in three ways: First, it could hold another vote to grant Mitig confidence and ensure that the legal and constitutional procedures are followed. Second, it could get the Supreme Court to determine the constitutionality of the vote. Third, it could cancel the vote and convince Abdullah al-Thinni to stay on as prime minister. Any other halfhearted solution will only result in further destabilization of the political scene in Libya and set the new government on a path to failure.

Mitig was one of seven candidates who presented their credentials to the GNC for the post of prime minister after Thinni resigned, citing an attack on his family and pressure from political groups within the GNC. If Mitig manages to get over this hurdle to be named Libya's next prime minister, he will be the fifth Libyan prime minister to be appointed in less than three years. This is a reminder of the worrying trend of inconsistency in governing in post-revolution Libya. It is not even clear how long the new prime minister's mandate would be. Libya is about to hold parliamentary elections to elect a new legislative body, which will most likely appoint a new government. That means that this next prime minister might be in office less than four months. That barely gives him enough time to get a handle of Libya's politics and wrangle its governing nightmare, making it extremely hard for him and his government to deliver on any of their promises.

If Mitig's bid for prime minister is successful, the 42-year-old businessman will be the second-youngest prime minister since Libya's independence in 1951. He would be prime minister in a country with a stagnating economy and an ever-deteriorating security situation in which hundreds of militias, armed to the teeth, roam the country free. On top of that, the rise of extremist groups in Libya would hinder any prime minister's efforts to move the country forward. Mitig's supporters claim that he has the strength and enthusiasm to get things done and that his leadership would ensure the cooperation and support of key figures in the powerful city of Misrata, his hometown, against any disruptive groups in Tripoli.

Nonetheless, a new prime minister must build consensus between political groups wherever possible and engage with newly elected local authorities throughout Libya. Effective local governance would positively engage powerful local actors, helping with pressing issues such as gaps in security. Fortunately, in a wide-ranging interview on May 6, Mitig emphasized the importance of local governance and decentralization, citing it as a key part of his government's agenda.

In another twist, on Monday morning the parliament's official website published a document signed by GNC President Nouri Abu Sahmain instating Mitig as Libya's new prime minister. Abu Sahmain has been out of the public eye for weeks after the attorney general launched an investigation into his affairs as part of a possible morality case against him. Instead of finding a political or legal solution to this deadlock, politicians in Tripoli are pulling rank to get their way.

Libya's politicians must forgo the dangerous path they are on. The public's disillusionment with governing institutions and the political process has reached new highs. The government's inability to build consensus and trust is driving the polarization in the country to dangerous levels and is creating the right environment for extremist groups like Ansar al-Sharia to launch an attack on the country's fledgling democracy.

Mohamed Eljarh is the Libya blogger for Transitions. Read the rest of his blog posts here.

MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images

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Democracy Lab Weekly Brief, May 5, 2014

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