LIBYA’S NEXT PRIME MINISTER: WHO IS UP TO THE CHALLENGE?

Whilst the international media’s attention appears to be largely focused around the fate of Gaddafi’s notorious senior spy, Abdullah al Senussi, another more contentious issue is raging across the Maghreb nation: the fate of Libya’s fledgling political landscape. Following the announcement of the list of candidates for prime minister on 05 September 2012, which included, among other hopefuls, Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Abushagur and National Forces Alliance (NFA) head Mahmoud Jibril, two critical questions remained: Who will win the coveted role of Libyan prime minister (PM)? Or, perhaps, more accurately (albeit, controversially), does anyone actually want to be Libya’s first ‘official’ post-conflict prime minister? Indeed, whoever wins the role will be fighting an uphill battle. Despite vast improvements following the downfall of Gaddafi in 2011, the new PM is expected to tackle Libya’s ever-present problem of security. Hard-line Islamist or “Salafist” attacks remain all too common, whilst the current government remains unable to manage the country’s disorganised security apparatus. Nevertheless, along with Jibril and Abushagur, the embattled Minister of Electricity, Awad Barasi; Dr Mohamed Barween; and lesser known candidates, including: Mohammed Al Mufti, Fathi Al Akkari, Abdulhamid Al Nami and Al Mabrouk Al Zway, all appear (on the surface at least) to be up to the challenge.

Does anyone want the role?

The numerous elections laws enacted by the General National Congress (GNC) add further uncertainty to the election process. To the outside observer, the number of laws, including those barring dual nationals from holding office, indicate that either Libya’s politicians are so desperate to win the role of PM, and are therefore trying to wreck their opponents chances of leading the country, or are so reluctant to become PM, that they are effectively legislating themselves out of contention. In one recent decision, for example, the GNC passed a measure to bar dual citizens from holding “any high office” in Congress. In theory at least, this narrowed down the choices for PM, given that independent candidate Abushagur is also a US national, whilst Barasi, the Muslim Brotherhood-backed Justice and Construction Party’s official candidate, holds a Canadian passport. The dual nationality law has sparked significant controversy among the Libyan community. Whilst some Libyans have indicated support for the measure, believing that dual nationality may lead candidates to have allegiance to foreign countries, others see it differently: that some members of the GNC may be using the ruling as a political tool to remove rival candidates. Nevertheless, there were previous indications that if the aforementioned candidates relinquish their dual nationalities, they might be able to stand for the election.

It is interesting to note, however, that if the “dual citizen” law is actually applied, it may pave the way for another dark horse candidate to burst into the political spotlight, that of Jibril. Jibril had previously been alleged to hold another nationality as well, but has vehemently denied these claims. In arguably a bid to end Jibril’s chances, the GNC also reportedly approved a measure to prohibit GNC members from holding “any executive position”. However, while Jibril’s party won the legislative election on 07 July 2012 (his party took 54% of the vote), he, himself, was not elected, and is therefore able to stand for PM.

Another recent measure passed by the GNC, which could have had severe ramifications for potential PMs, was the decision to prohibit anyone who is married to a foreign national to run for high office. This, too, could have impacted Jibril, who whilst studying in Cairo, reportedly married a relative of former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s ministers. However, Jibril has reportedly divorced since, and subsequently married a woman from the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi. Nevertheless, Jibril’s own reported dwindling popularity may ultimately prove to be final nail in his ‘political coffin’ so-to-speak. In a rather scandalous recent report, a Libyan police officer presented an official complaint to the Ministry of the Interior, claiming that a member of Jibril’s security entourage “attacked” him, leaving him hospitalised for three days in Gharyan. According to Ayoub Mahmoud al Aswad, the purported victim of the attack, the unidentified security guard “attacked” him while he asked Jibril’s “nine-car” convoy to make way for ambulance transporting a patient. For his part, Jibril reportedly denied the incident occurred. Nevertheless, the purported attack has led to criticism of Jibril, as some Libyans have questioned why Jibril needed a nine-car security entourage to escort him throughout the country.

The competition

As of 07 September 2012, it remains unclear as to who will win the position of PM, a role that is expected to be voted on by members of GNC on 12 September 2012. Barasi had previously been deemed as one of the PM frontrunners. However Barasi’s popularity has fallen somewhat in recent months, due to the country’s ongoing power cuts, with outages lasting up to “three hours” in Tripoli’s Janzour district whilst on 05 September 2012, Tripoli International also suffered “substantial” power failure for at least six hours. These and other incidents have left many Libyans frustrated with Barasi’s leadership style. For his part, Barasi claims that he has inherited an infrastructure problem left over from the Gaddafi days. Barasi’s political stamina has also been called into question after he was sent to a hospital in Benghazi on 15 August 2012, amid rumours that he might have become ill due to having been “overloaded with work”. The frequent power cuts may therefore fuel more support for Abushagur, or even Misrata’s independent candidate, Dr Mohamed Barween, who has been praised for successfully organising his city’s local elections on 20 February 2012. Indeed, some reports indicate that Barween’s popularity appears to be growing significantly among independent members of the GNC, as rumours have emerged that nearly thirty-five unaligned candidates may be forming a coalition in an effort to bolster his political chances. Nevertheless, there are indications that this support may not be enough, as internationally popular Abushagur, should he relinquish his dual nationality, is widely seen as the favourite.

And the winner is….

Of all of the aforementioned political hopefuls, Abushagur is arguably the best bet, and, to the annoyance of many Libyans who have accused some television stations of “openly supporting” his candidacy, he appears to be something of a media darling. Abushagur, a technocrat who holds a PHD in Microsystems Engineering, is seen as a mediator and a moderate leader, who is open to international investment. On the other hand, Abushagur has been accused by some of being a lackey for the US Government, given his dual nationality, something which could haunt him whilst the GNC deliberates. Nevertheless, whoever wins the role of PM, whether it be Abushagur or Barween, one thing is clear: the leader will face harsh criticism no matter what decision he takes. If he does not earn the support of his colleagues, as well the Libyan people, he may be out of office quickly, particularly if history offers any lessons, Libyans will not hesitate to make their opposition to the government heard.

(Image: Inkerman personnel)

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