By Umar Khan.
Tripoli, 4 September:
The General National Congress has set the basic requirements for the role of prime minister, moving a . . .[restrict]step closer to the selection of the next prime minister of Libya.
As earlier reported by the Libya Herald, dual nationals have been barred from running for the post. The rule also applies if the spouse of the candidate holds a dual nationality. The members of the GNC interested in becoming the PM are also required to resign from their respective seats before filing for candidacy, thus ruling out any chances for the current members to become the PM.
As the ruling further narrows down the list of the candidates, it also complicates the issue as the two most talked-about candidates, Deputy PM Abushagur and electricity minister Awad Barassi, have dual citizenships. They will have to renounce the foreign nationality to be considered a candidate.
According to sources, however, both the candidates are willing to renounce the foreign nationalities to run for the premier position.
In the latest turn of events, the political activity is at its peak as the different blocs are campaigning for their favoured candidates.
The Islamists, supporting the electricity minister, are facing an internal divide as a group of Salafists has refused to support Barassi as the prime minister owing to his membership of the Muslim Brotherhood. The differences between the two groups are ideological and exist in all countries where the two groups are found. Other would-be Barassi supporters are also hesitant as they think the PM should not be from the east of Libya as the speaker of GNC is himself from the east.
There are talks in some circles that Islamists can bring a candidate other than Awad Barassi to avoid this internal split. That man is rumoured to be Mohammed Barween, who has been credited with successfully organising Misrata’s local council elections in February.
Barween has insisted that he is a unifying candidate, however, and belongs to no one camp. Moreover, persuading Barassi supporters to abandon their candidate now will be difficult, given the level of campaigning that has already taken place. Barassi’s supporters are convinced that he is the best person to lead Libya in these rough times given his work as the electricity minister and the reputation among the revolutionaries.
After 42 years of authoritarian rule, Libya is new to democracy and the decisions made are very much regionally affected. Thus, the loyalty to one’s region comes before party discipline or even the affiliation to any religious group.
Regional loyalty should not, however, be mistaken for tribalism. In spite of widespread reports to the contrary, Libya is not a particularly tribal society. In the July elections, many people have voted individuals they considered to be independent, instead of voting for a candidate from their own tribe.
Likewise, last year’s revolution saw splits in many tribes, with individuals going against the wishes of the leadership and even whole sub-groups breaking apart from one another.
The lack of political exposure of the GNC members has so far ensured that no bloc formed is strong enough to dictate its overall direction. Despite following the same ideology and close affiliation with the mainstream Islamist parties, many members have voiced different opinions on several issues. Thus, all the negotiations and differences within the Islamist sphere regarding the prime minister’s candidates.
If no consensus is reached, Mustafa Abushagur looks set to benefit from this split. Surprisingly, Abushagur is now tipped to be the candidate most favoured by the Salafists, if only because they dislike him less than all the others. Widely considered a moderate, there is certainly no love lost between Abushagur and the Salafists, with one of his senior aides recently describing them in less than diplomatic terms.
Those campaigning for Abushagur are trying hard to break away from the image of the current government, arguing that Abushagur has achieved a lot despite the slow nature of government led by Prime Minister Abdurrahim Al-Kib. Abushagur was also member of the National Front for the Salvation of Libya prior to its transformation into a political party, the National Front, earlier this year. Mohammed Magarief was also a leader of the NFSL and its successor, but recently resigned following his election to the speakership of the GNC.
Another candidate now being talked about is none other than Mahmoud Jibril. The NFA leader was a late entrant but picked up momentum because of his aggressive strategy and widespread popularity amongst many ordinary Libyans. However, Jibril has again taken the back seat in the past couple of days, according to party sources.
In the last few days there have been reports of fresh talks between the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Justice & Construction Party and Jibril’s National Forces Alliance to reach agreement over a compromise candidate for prime minister.
However, as happened during the Speaker elections, both Islamist and NFA sources have now confirmed that talks between the two sides have broken down. If the Justice & Construction Party were to make a deal with Jibril, it is said, many Islamists would consider that treachery.
Moreover, Jibril’s Machiavellian style and unabashed desire to play the king-maker have cost him friends within the Congress, and he has a poor reputation with many revolutionaries, given that he was out of Libya for much of the fighting last year and played a questionable role in planning for the liberation of Tripoli.
According to several senior political figures and security officials, Jibril will be risking too much if he runs for the post and the message has been conveyed to Jibril through his close aides. It remains to be seen if Jibril actually goes ahead and files candidacy for the PM role or if the NFA will support one of the other candidates.
With Jibril looking increasingly unlikely as a candidate, that leaves the race down to Abushagur, Barassi and Barween. With just eight days to go until a decision is due to be made, it is still far from clear which of these three will emerge on top. Indeed, given the frequency with which allegiances shift and minds seem to change in this new Congress, Libya really does give new meaning to the old saying ‘a week is a long time in politics’.
Umar Khan can be found on Twitter @umarnkhan. [/restrict]