Middle East

Libya PM's delicate cabinet balancing act: analysts

US Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Beth Jones (L) shares a laugh with Libyan Prime Minister Mustafa Abu Shagur during a meeting in Tripoli on October 2, 2012. AFP PHOTO/MAHMUD TURKIA

TRIPOLI: Libya's Prime Minister Mustafa Abu Shagur faces an uphill task in naming a government on Sunday that balances regional and political interests while also tackling multiple security issues, analysts say.

The embattled premier was granted 72 hours to build consensus and deliver an amended cabinet list after the General National Congress (GNC) rejected his first proposed line-up late on Thursday.

"The first challenge is security," said Jason Pack, a Libyan history researcher at Cambridge University and president of online repository

"The central government does not yet have sufficient military capacity to provide adequate security for its own parliamentary offices, let alone for the complex process of disarming and demobilising the hundreds of militias."

More than 100 protesters stormed the national assembly's headquarters on Thursday, demanding greater representation for the western town of Zawiyah and reportedly calling for Abu Shagur's resignation.

Pack said the protests show a tendency "to only trust representatives who come from their local area, leading to demands for regional quotas and the allotment of cabinet positions based on region of origin rather than technical competence."

Carlo Binda, director of the US-based National Democratic Institute's Libya branch, said Abu Shagur to his credit had "shown sensitivity and political sophistication by appointing deputies and ministers from each of the regions."

Residents of the east and south complain they were marginalised for 42 years under Moamer Kadhafi before the 2011 conflict that toppled his regime and killed him.

Binda downplayed the Zawiyah protest's significance, saying it reflected one "local grievance," and stressed that regional and tribal politics were not the main reason the GNC rejected his proposed cabinet.

"It was rejected for a collection of reasons... You can't possibly satisfy each and every interest when trying to compose a cabinet. Then you would have a cabinet of six million people," Binda said.

Pack agreed: "Anyone in Abu Shagur's position would be hard-pressed to come up with a list that could please everybody."

When they finally met, GNC representatives lambasted Abu Shagur's ministerial choices, calling them either incompetent, unknown, or remnants from the previous transitional government.

"The interior ministry -- the most important portfolio at a time when the demand from the streets is security -- went to a complete unknown," noted Miftah Buzeid, analyst and editor of a Benghazi-based newspaper.

Last month, after an attack in the eastern city killed the US ambassador, tens of thousands of Libyans rose up, calling for a national army and police force and an end to militias of former rebels.

Buzeid said the line-up sparked outrage because it included at least 13 figures who were part of the 2011 wartime executive committee or players in the outgoing and unpopular government of premier Abdel Rahim al-Kib.

"He was Kib's deputy so he brings nothing new," said Buzeid. "The cabinet he proposed was based on loyalty and friendships."

Abu Shagur began his mandate on the back foot.

The technocrat won his post on September 13 by a small margin in a run-off vote against wartime premier Mahmud Jibril, who leads the largest liberal coalition in the assembly, the National Forces Alliance.

Abu Shagur was committed to forming a government of consensus and says he negotiated with all parties. But he also had to tackle fallout from the US consulate attack and anti-militia protests.

A national unity government would need the backing of the NFA, which was left out after failed negotiations, as well as the second largest party, the Muslim Brotherhood's Justice and Construction Party.

The NFA, which reportedly requested nine ministries, was not included in the proposed cabinet because of disagreements over conditions, but gave its blessing.

The Justice and Construction Party slammed the proposed line-up before it came up for discussion. It received four ministries but reportedly expected more after the NFA's exclusion.

Parties hold only 80 of the GNC's 200 seats, with 120 for independent representatives, elected in small regional constituencies, who ultimately have the power to make or break the next government.

The analysts said there is a risk the GNC will withdraw its backing from Abu Shagur, who was a compromise candidate, if his next cabinet offering of 26 ministers and three deputy premiers does not meet their expectations.

"Remember it took Lebanon two years to form a government," Buzeid noted.

Binda added: "There are big issues to deal with and a relatively short life to this government, so you have to be a fairly brave person to step up."

Under the transition plan for Libya, a new government will be in power for roughly a year only, until fresh elections on the basis of a new constitution.





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