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Libyan Lawmakers Weigh Options After Dropping Premier-Elect

Libyan lawmakers began discussing the selection of a new premier after rejecting a revised Cabinet list submitted by Prime Minister-elect Mustafa Abushagur and removing him from his post with a no-confidence motion.

The meeting in the 200-seat National Congress came hours after lawmakers rejected a “crisis cabinet” of 10 people to lead Libya presented by Abushagur and then held a no-confidence motion that pushed the incoming premier from office less than a month after they had selected him for the post. The move injected new uncertainty into the political mix in a country struggling to control militias that played a key role in Muammar Qaddafi’s ouster last year, while also trying to form a stable government after decades of one-man rule.

In a televised session today, lawmakers began discussing how to move forward, including whether to elect a new premier from within the ranks of the legislature or someone from outside the parliament. Until a new prime minister is chosen, the government of Abdurrahim el-Keib, who had been appointed by the then-interim National Transitional Council, remains a caretaker administration.

Members of congress will debate three proposals this evening to end the deadlock. The first is to select a new premier from the parliament. The second would return to the previous mechanism and elect a new prime minister, while under the third, political parties and members of parliament would try to negotiate a candidate.

Militias

“If you can’t even decide who will be the prime minister and can’t put a Cabinet into place, then by default it’s the people who’ve got the guns who will call the shots and investors won’t make long-term investment decisions, if they can’t see beyond that,” John Hamilton, contributing editor to African Energy and a Libya analyst with the London-based Cross-border Information consultancy, said by phone.

Abushagur had faced an already-extended Oct. 7 deadline for the new Cabinet after the National Congress rejected his earlier list. Much of the criticism revolved around different groups or factions looking to secure representation for their regions in the Cabinet -- a demand Abushagur said undercut his efforts.

“I was going to form a national unity government, not based on quotas,” he told Parliament in Tripoli yesterday. “But then there was pressure on me. People wanted ministers from their regions.”

Abushagur called on lawmakers to work quickly to select a new prime minister and form a government “so the country is not left with a political vacuum during this period.”

Regional Issues

The latest rejection and protests by demonstrators who say their regions are unrepresented in the government reflect Libya’s fragile political situation since last year’s bloody uprising. The interim government has pushed to restore order and revive the economy, efforts stymied by factionalism as militias refused to disarm and regional interests dominate.

“Anybody who believed that Libya was going to be the poster child for easy transitions and good governance wasn’t focused on the tribal and regional divisions that will impede stability,” said Aaron David Miller of the Washington-based research group Woodrow Wilson Center.

Libya in particular has no experience of self-rule because of Qaddafi’s “bizarre one-man cult rule,” Miller said. “The country has too many guns and grievances, militias and malcontents for that.”

Reflecting the uncertainty in the country, Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Amr Roshdy said his government was working with their Libyan counterparts to evacuate roughly 1,000 Egyptians in and around the town of Bani Walid, a former Qaddafi-era stronghold around which at least a couple of thousand militiamen have converged.

Kidnapping

The massing of militiamen belonging to an umbrella group called the National Shield was in response to the death of a former rebel reportedly kidnapped and tortured by a group in the city months earlier. The rebel, credited with helping in Qaddafi’s capture, had died of injuries sustained during captivity after returning from a hospital in France.

The build-up also comes after a sharp pushback against Islamist militias believed involved in the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three colleagues after the Sept. 11 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi. Chris Stevens’ death spotlighted the challenges the government faced in dealing with the groups that have resisted disarming or being absorbed into the armed forces as they jostle for greater power and services for the various regions or cities from which they hail. The U.S. has blamed the attack on terrorists.

Abushagur had begun taking on that challenge after the consulate attack, even as he tried to craft a Cabinet that would find broad backing in the country.

The lack of government “means that everyone will have to wait even longer for an administration to be in place to move things forward -- not just for the oil sector, but security, construction,” said Hamilton. “Every part of the economy has been on hold for months and will continue to be on hold.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Christopher Stephen in Tripoli, Libya at cstephen9@bloomberg.net; Tarek El-Tablawy in Cairo at teltablawy@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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