BEIRUT

Middle East

Crisis defused as court rules election of Libyan PM invalid

  • Libya's new Prime Minister Ahmed Maiteeq speaks during a news conference at the office of the Prime Minister in Tripoli on June 7, 2014. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny

TRIPOLI: In a chaotic parliamentary session, Libya’s supreme court Monday ruled that the election of premier Ahmad Maiteeq was unconstitutional, ending a monthlong political crisis that saw two rival cabinets jostling for power.

Maiteeq said he would respect the ruling, hailing the decision as a “boost for the conservation of the rule of law” in Libya.

The standoff started in early May, when parliament voted Maiteeq as new premier to replace Abdullah al-Thani, who resigned after an attack on his family. However, Thani refused to recognize the parliamentary vote, which came days after gunmen stormed the building to interrupt an earlier ballot.

Several liberal lawmakers accused Islamist blocs within the interim parliament of allowing late arrivals at the session to cast their votes after the initial result was announced to make up the 121 votes needed, after Maiteeq had garnered only 113 votes.

Thani insisted he would await a decision by the judiciary before handing over power.

But Maiteeq convened his first cabinet meeting last week despite Thani’s objections, and the two rival premiers disputed power in Tripoli, each laying claim to the largely lawless North African nation’s huge reserves of oil and gas.

The Supreme Court issued its ruling Monday.

“The court has judged the election of Maiteeq at the General National Congress [the interim parliament] as unconstitutional,” a judge at the court said after a short hearing, without elaborating.

Maiteeq, 42, an independent backed by the Islamists, had been due to lead the country for a short interim period until June 25, when the country is due to hold an election to replace the congress.

Constitutional law expert Abdelgader Gdoura told AFP that the “Supreme Court’s decision is final. … Maiteeq’s government is finished.”

The GNC had also said it would comply with the decision, and confirmed that Thani would head the interim government.

“The congress complied with the judiciary’s decision,” Salah al-Makhzum, a vice president of the GNC, told a news conference shortly after the court ruling.

Thani announced his resignation earlier this year after an armed attack on his family, but insisted his successor be chosen by a new parliament rather than its contested predecessor.

After refusing to hand over power, Thani convened his cabinet last week even as Maiteeq’s government held its first session, reportedly in a luxury hotel since his predecessor was at the time occupying the seat of government.

The political standoff between the rival cabinets amid rising unrest across the country allowed rogue general Khalifa Haftar to press an offensive against Islamists in the restive eastern city of Benghazi.

Haftar launched “Operation Dignity” last month with troops from his so-called National Army. He has rallied support among the public and members of the security forces have joined his forces.

Near daily attacks in Benghazi, cradle of the 2011 revolt against dictator Moammar Gadhafi, have killed dozens of members of the security forces. No group has claimed the attacks, but they have been blamed on radical Islamist militias in the city.

Some politicians and armed groups in the country had warned they would not endorse Maiteeq’s government, including autonomist rebels who have been blockading eastern oil terminals.

 
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Summary

In a chaotic parliamentary session, Libya's supreme court Monday ruled that the election of premier Ahmad Maiteeq was unconstitutional, ending a monthlong political crisis that saw two rival cabinets jostling for power.

The standoff started in early May, when parliament voted Maiteeq as new premier to replace Abdullah al-Thani, who resigned after an attack on his family.

Maiteeq, 42, an independent backed by the Islamists, had been due to lead the country for a short interim period until June 25, when the country is due to hold an election to replace the congress.

After refusing to hand over power, Thani convened his cabinet last week even as Maiteeq's government held its first session, reportedly in a luxury hotel since his predecessor was at the time occupying the seat of government.


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