(Updates with parliament spokesman, analyst comments)
By Ghaith Shennib and Jessica Donati
TRIPOLI May 5 Libya's parliament voted on
Sunday to ban anyone who held a senior position during Muammar
Gaddafi's 42-year rule from government, a move which could
unseat the prime minister and other top officials regardless of
their part in toppling the dictator.
Politicians debated the draft law for months, but the issue
came to a head this week when heavily armed groups took control
of two ministries and stormed other institutions including the
The decision to hold the vote under duress could embolden
the armed groups to use force again to assert their will over
Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, a diplomat under Gaddafi who
defected to the exiled opposition in 1980, could be among those
barred from office, although this remained unclear and a
parliament spokesman said it would be decided by a committee
charged with implementing the law.
"Being unjust to a few is better than defeating the whole
objective of the law," said one of the hundreds who filled
Tripoli's main square to celebrating the passage of the law,
many of them shooting guns into the air.
Nearly two years after Gaddafi was overthrown, the gunmen
who fought to end his 42-year dictatorship are refusing to lay
down their arms and go back to civilian life - militiamen are
more visible than Libyan state forces in the capital.
The cabinet and Libya's official armed forces are so weak
that swathes of the oil-producing desert country remain outside
central government control.
A spokesman for parliament admitted it was unclear whether
the vote would be enough to dislodge the gunmen from their
positions outside the government buildings.
"We hope the siege of the ministries will stop now, but it
is not in our hands," General National Congress (GNC) spokesman
Omar Hmaiden told a news conference after the vote.
More than a dozen vehicles mounted with anti-aircraft
weapons and machine guns remained parked outside the Justice
Ministry and the Foreign Ministry has been similarly encircled
for a week.
One of the men stationed by a machine gun in front of the
Justice Ministry, said the group came from different areas close
to the capital Tripoli and ahead of the vote vowed they would
stay until the prime minister had been forced from office.
"We have been asking them to deal with Gaddafi's friends for
a year," he said.
Although the law passed with an overwhelming majority of 164
votes in favour and just four against, many congress members
"It's a very unfair and extreme law, but we need to put
national interests first in order to solve the crisis," said
Tawfiq Breik, spokesman for the liberal National Forces Alliance
(NFA) bloc, Libya's largest parliamentary coalition.
Diplomats in Tripoli complained that holding the vote under
duress had undermined its legitimacy, while a human rights group
called on parliament to reject the draft.
"The GNC should not allow itself to be railroaded into
making very bad laws because groups of armed men are demanding
it," said Sarah Leah Whitson, a Human Rights Watch director in
the region, in a statement.
"Libya's long-term prospects for peace and security will be
seriously diminished if the congress agrees to nod through this
Much will depend on how high up in Gaddafi's administration
an official has to have been in order to be excluded from
politics, one analyst said.
"If the bar is too low, the law could result in most
government administrations being gutted, without having
sufficient staff or institutional memory to ensure their proper
functioning," said Geoff Porter of North Africa Risk Consulting.
"However, if the bar is too high then we are likely to see
repeats of the blockades in front of government ministries that
we saw this week."
Congress members say the law could be applied to around 40
others in the 200-member parliament, including the president of
the assembly Mohammed Magarief who became an exiled leader of
Libya's oldest opposition movement in the 1980s after serving as
an ambassador under Gaddafi.
The law does not make provisions for those, like him, who
spent decades in exile and were instrumental in toppling
The law prohibits former officials from holding any position
in government or even belonging to a political party. It will
also ban them from leadership roles in the country's state
firms, like the National Oil Corporation, its universities and
(Reporting by Jessica Donati and Ghaith Shennib; Editing by Jon