By Sami Zaptia.
London, 9 February 2021:
Ageela Saleh, the head of Libya’s only internationally recognized parliament, the House of Representatives (HoR), called yesterday for a consultative session of the HoR on 15 February in Tobruk.
In his call for the HoR to convene, Saleh said ‘‘Thanks to God and the cooperation of the benevolent people of the homeland, an important stage of the political agreement has been accomplished by choosing a Presidential Council and the prime minister of the National Unity Government, which will be formed on the specified date’’.
This will be the first meeting of the eastern based HoR under the leadership of Saleh since the new unified Libyan government, the Presidency Council, and its prime minister of the Government of National Unity (GNU), were selected on 5 February in Geneva by the 74-member LPDF. The LPDF were selected by UNSMIL to represent all of Libya.
Positive signals by Saleh?
It is noteworthy that Saleh referred to the new unified government as the ‘‘National Unity Government’’ (or Government of National Unity – GNU). This indicates that Saleh intends to end his sole recognition of the eastern based Interim government headed by Abdalla Thinni and recognize the GNU. Or at least he is signalling that he is personally accepting it – at this time.
It is equally noteworthy that he said that the GNU ‘‘will be formed on the specified date’’. The LPDF’s Roadmap allows the GNU prime minister-designate 21 days to put forward his government to Saleh’s HoR. The HoR then also has 21 days to approve it otherwise it is referred to the LPDF for approval. Saleh is signalling that he intends to approve the new GNU within the 21 days..
This may signal that he is confident of persuading his 20-odd supporters that make up his official HoR in eastern Libya to vote for it. It may also signal that he does not want the authority of his HoR to be usurped by the LPDF.
Will the HoR now be reunited?
This signalling by Saleh could be significant. The 127-strong breakaway HoR bloc that met unofficially in Ghadames in December is calling for a meeting of the whole body – including the 20-odd Saleh eastern bloc. Talks and discussions have resumed after the selection of the GNU.
Hence, analysts will be watching keenly to see if more or less members attend Saleh’s Tobruk meeting, or weather the whole 150-odd members will finally bury the hatchet and meet in a neutral venue under Saleh’s leadership.
Will GNU receive quorate approval by HoR?
The GNU will need parliamentary endorsement by the official HoR, but Saleh can only command the loyal support of the 20-odd members. This does not make a quorate. For the GNU to be ‘‘legal’’ it needs a quorate of the 150-odd members. What makes a quorate is contested by members. It is believed to be between 120-130.
Hence, when Saleh says the GNU ‘‘will be formed on the specified date’’, does he mean it will be endorsed by his rump of a bloc or by a unified HoR? And if it is only approved by his 20-odd bloc, will that be counted as ‘‘legal’’ or will it be yet another contested Libyan entity like the outgoing Serraj-led Government of National Accord (GNA)?
And will the Ghadames 127 HoR bloc meet separately and endorse the GNU separately? And would the amalgamation of both votes be considered a legal endorsement of the GNU?
Will Saleh be a good loser?
It will be recalled that Saleh stood for the position of head of the new Presidency Council at the Geneva LPDF selection process. His list, that included incumbent Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha, lost by 34 votes to the eventual winners who received 39 votes. Analysts say supporters previously considered to be Saleh supporters voted for the opposition.
The question is, will Saleh now be a good loser? Will he recognize that the writing is on the wall for him and his 20-odd rump of supporters? They were never forgiven by most western Libya, and especially Greater Tripoli, for supporting Khalifa Hafter in his war on Tripoli.
Hence, will Saleh and his 20-odd give in to the new Libyan political winds of change and give up resisting the inevitable momentum. Will they, into their seventh year since their democratic election, recognize the new people’s will and their rejection of the failed status quo and demand for change?
Or will they remain obstinate and dig their heels in, insisting on remaining obstructers to progressive change?
Can they be converted to stakeholders?
The problem is that Saleh and his HoR rump may now view themselves as losers of the LPDF Geneva process. They may be thinking what’s in it for them? Why should they be cast aside by an unelected LPDF when they were elected by the Libyan people during the 2014 elections?
Can the GNU play politics?
Maybe Saleh is looking for an honourable way out? A cushy post as Libyan ambassador in Cairo, Abu Dhabi, Moscow?
It now falls to the new Presidency Council head, an easterner, to play a clever behind the scenes role of brokering a deal with Saleh whereby the HoR head is incentivised to not only endorse the GNU, but also make all the needed constitutional amendments so that the referendum law for the draft constitution is passed and, if approved by the public referendum, endorse it and its election regulations for a successful 24 December 2021.
Saleh can still play a strategic role in Libyan politics – one way or the other.
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