Spurred on by the tailwind of the international community, which is increasingly exasperated with the Libyan deadlock, Libya’s fledging unity government has just declared itself the country’s sole legitimate representative, despite an ongoing dispute over its validation.
“The unlimited support voiced by the majority of House of Representatives members as well as by the State Council, members of the Libyan Political Dialogue and the […] elites gives the green light for the Government of National Accord to start its work”, the GNA’s Presidency Council declared Saturday.
The controversial statement came just two days after the participants of the Libyan Political Dialogue – comprising rival lawmakers, political party heads and independent political figures – met in Tunis to discuss ways to end the stalemate in the government formation. Dialogue members reaffirmed their commitment to the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) as the “only and legitimate framework for bringing an end to the political crisis and military conflict in Libya”.
UN Special Envoy Martin Kobler had convened the Libyan Political Dialogue for the first time since the group signed the LPA on December 17 in order to discuss ways to move ahead given that the House of Representatives (HoR) – Libya’s official legislature – is yet to formally endorse the GNA, which is the centerpiece of the deal.
Repeated attempts to hold a confidence vote led to turmoil and ended with a group of around 100 MPs signing a declaration of support to the GNA on February 23 (refereed to as Declaration of 101), claiming they represented the majority and had been prevented from voting. Debates have since revolved around whether or not this suffices to consider the proposed government approved and how the international community will deal with the continued standoff.
Parliament member Imhamed Shuaib, who headed the HoR team that signed the December agreement, insists that the endorsement of the GNA is the prerogative of the HoR, and that the dialogue team has no say on this matter. “I object to any suggestion that it is the Dialogue Committee that approves the [National Unity] Government”, he said in an extensive interview on Libya Channel on Wednesday. “The over 100 [lawmakers] who signed [the February 23 declaration] still hope the HoR will approve the Government”, he added.
Other dialogue members, including Misratan politician Fathi Bashagha and Mohamed Sawan, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Justice & Construction Party, have said that the Declaration of 101 constituted a legally valid endorsement.
The Libyan Political Dialogue statement on Thursday was carefully worded. “While the members of the Political Dialogue stress that granting a vote of confidence to the Government of National Accord is an inherent competence of the House of Representatives, and with all due respect to opinions of Parliament members about the Government of National Accord, they valued the statement of 23 February by the majority of members of the House of Representatives in which they expressed approval of the formation of the Government of National Accord” it read.
Dialogue members however reiterated international calls that the HoR endorse the GNA, saying it should “complete these steps” and “continue upholding its responsibilities with respect to the implementation of all relevant provisions of the Libyan Political Agreement”. Dialogue members also expressed their concern over missed deadlines for the implementation of the LPA.
According to the text of the agreement, Libya should have had a full unity government by the end of January. But the 9-member Presidency Council that was formed as part of the December deal to head the GNA has suffered from internal divisions and walkouts, in addition to delays on the HoR-side.
Attempts to convene a plenary session to hold a vote on the government failed on several occasions this week, including today, Monday.
“The GNA-supporters have not arrived in Tobruk yet. It is them who are responsible for the session not taking place”, MP Ezzedin Gweirib told Libya Channel Sunday night. “Their absence indicates that they are going towards accepting the government without asking the HoR”, he added. He also dismissed fellow lawmakers’ accounts of threats and obstruction during previous sessions, claiming that the atmosphere in Tobruk was “very appropriate” for a vote.
The members of the GNA Presidency Council seem indeed determined to move ahead in spite of the controversy surrounding the status of their government.
In its Saturday statement in which it said it had “the green light” to start its work, the Council also appealed to “all sovereign institutions in Libya, in particular the financial institutions, to start communicating with the GNA immediately” for the power handover to be done in a “peaceful and orderly manner”. Finally, the Council called on the international community to stop dealing with “any executive power that is not affiliated with the GNA”.
This came just days after the HoR on its part called on foreign nations not to deal with the GNA as representative of Libya, in response to the PM Faiez Serraj’s increasingly frequent trips abroad.
“The Libyan state is still represented by the HoR and the Interim Government until the Constitutional Declaration is amended and the GNA is granted confidence”, the HoR statement read. “The HoR cautions all brotherly and friendly countries that any commitments resulting from these visits are not binding for the Libyan state.”
Critics noted that the declaration only reflected the view of the HoR Presidency and MPs who oppose the GNA, as it had not been drafted in a plenary session.
The GNA Presidency Council’s declaration on Saturday has drawn much criticism as it is being accused of “granting confidence to itself”.
On Sunday, ten members of the Libyan Political Dialogue issued a protest letter calling it an “attempt to override the LPA” and a “bad usage” of the Dialogue statement three days earlier, reiterating that only the HoR had the authority to decide whether the unity government should go ahead.
Judging by their latest statements, the UN and leading Western nations see the issue differently and are ready to press ahead without formal HoR consent to avoid any further delays.
“There can be no political vacuum. It’s time to embark immediately on the implementation phase,” Martin Kobler said Friday in his response to the Libyan Political Dialogue deliberations.
He called on the Presidency Council to take “all necessary measures” to move to Tripoli “once the security situation allows” and start the power handover to the GNA.
Although Kobler echoed the Libyan Political Dialogue statement saying the HoR should “uphold its responsibilities and complete the steps relating to the implementations of the LPA”, he simultaneously called on the international community to work with the GNA as Libya’s “sole legitimate authority” and to “support the GNA in assuming its responsibilities to exercise sole and effective oversight over Libyan financial institutions”.
Speaking at a press conference in Malta on Sunday, Kobler went further, spelling out what had previously been hinted at. “Can the truck drive without a license plate? Yes it can. Due to the urgency of the situation and the humanitarian crisis, it is justifiable that the government moves into Tripoli immediately once the security is established”, he said, implying that the “license plate” or HoR endorsement could come later.
Meanwhile, the EU, France, Germany, Italy, the UK and the US, followed up with a joint statement affirming they intend to work with the GNA as “the only legitimate government in Libya” and insisting that the power handover must be implemented “as soon as possible”.
The ministers and the EU High Representative also reiterated that “those who undermine the political process, the establishment of the GNA and the implementation of the Skhirat agreement, may face sanctions”. The sanctions, which the international community has been threatening with for a while, are expected to be further discussed at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Rome today.