Libya's politics are broken but war not seen as inevitable

FILE PHOTO: Libyan Prime Minister Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah speaks after submitting his candidacy papers for the upcoming presidential election at the headquarters of the electoral commission in Tripoli, Libya November 21, 2021. REUTERS/Hazem Ahmed/File Photo/File Photo

TUNIS, Feb 9 (Reuters) - Libya's political jostling is intensifying as the parliament prepares to announce a new prime minister despite the incumbent's refusal to step down, further undermining an already faltering U.N.-backed peace process.

The manoeuvring comes after December's collapse of a planned election that was the centrepiece of the peace push, with rival factions now competing over control of government and what will happen next.

The most likely outcome appears to be a return to the administrative division between two parallel governments seated in different cities that prevailed from 2014 until the installation of an interim unity government a year ago.

Libyans, who had been hoping that the U.N.-backed process would result in the first chance for eight years to elect new leaders, are resigning themselves to another long transition dominated by the same group of powerbrokers.

"Libya will again be in limbo without even a clear process to move forward. On both sides the clear intention to seize or keep power is all too transparent," said Wolfram Lacher of the German think tank SWP.

Armed forces that are aligned with or against the unity government have mobilised in Tripoli recently and residents are aware of more fighters in the streets and the constant, jarring threat of sudden eruptions of violence.

However, it is far from clear whether the parliament's appointment of a new prime minister will quickly trigger a return to the fighting that has raged for much of the past decade and smashed whole districtsof Libyan cities.

There has been little peace or stability since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising against Muammar Gaddafi and the split in 2014 between warring factions in east and west, but a ceasefire has mostly prevailed since summer 2020.

Analysts say a return to the warfare between western groups and the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) of Khalifa Haftar appears unlikely for now, though the risk of internal struggles within each of those camps is higher.

While many of the divisions between eastern and western camps remain in place, the past 18 months have reconfigured the network of alliances and enmities that define relations among both political factions and the fighters holding the streets.

ARMED FORCES

In Tripoli, Prime Minister Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah of the Government of National Unity (GNU) has pushed a populist policy of social and project spending during his year in office.

His critics accuse him of corruption, which he denies, while rival factions and leaders who had initially supported the GNU have come to see him as a threat to their own standing.

The eastern-based parliament, allied to Haftar during the war, now looks poised to name as prime minister Fathi Bashagha, a former adversary of the eastern camp and interior minister under the previous Tripoli government.

It would then task him with naming a new interim government, a process likely to involve lengthy horsetrading among rival factions for position.

Both Dbeibah and Bashagha are from the central coastal city of Misrata, whose armed groups are among the strongest in Tripoli and which constantly seek to expand their influence and revenue.

Over recent months, the varied armed forces in the capital have crystallised into two main camps, one of which is clearly aligned with Dbeibah, making it easier for political disputes to trigger street fighting.

However, the political leaders across factional lines and the foreign powers that have backed them for now seem unlikely to actively seek armed confrontation.

They seem more likely to pursue their quest for continued power in other ways, such as through pressure on the state oil company, or through backroom wrangling.

Reporting by Angus McDowall; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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