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Interim Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah rejected Libya’s east-based parliament’s attempts to replace him, in a showdown between the two factions on Tuesday.
Dbeibah was named interim leader last year under a United Nations-backed process aimed at helping the North African country recover from a decade of chaos that followed the ouster of dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
His government had the mandate to lead the country to elections on Dec. 24, 2021.
But the polls were canceled, and parliament began interviewing candidates to replace Dbeibah, a process that could spark new east-west power struggles in the troubled nation. The east-based parliament is in favor of the putschist Gen. Khalifa Haftar, who waged a campaign against the internationally-recognized interim government to take over capital Tripoli.
In a televised address on Tuesday, Dbeibah vowed he would resist any attempts by the parliament, which is based in the eastern city of Tobruk, to replace his Tripoli-based government.
“I will not allow new transitional periods. We will not retreat from our role in government that we pledged to the people until elections are achieved,” he said.
He launched a tirade against what he called the “hegemonic political class,” accusing it of “stealing the dreams of 2.5 million voters” who had registered to vote in the election.
He further accused parliament of passing laws without meeting the legal quorum for votes.
The United Nations, western powers and even some members of parliament have called for Dbeibah to continue with his role until elections, for which a new date has not yet been set.
But Parliament Speaker Aguila Saleh, a leader of the eastern faction who, like Dbeibah, was a candidate in the presidential vote, has forged ahead with efforts to have the premier replaced.
On Thursday, parliament members are scheduled to pick between two candidates: Powerful former Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha, 59, and outsider Khaled al-Bibass, 51, a former official in the interior ministry. However, the assembly is not fully united.
The U.N. has also called for a new date to be set for presidential polls rather than yet another transitional government.
Thursday’s vote could see a repeat of a 2014 schism that saw two parallel governments emerge.
The parliament has also adopted a “road map” toward elections, which looks set to delay the polls further.
It says they must take place within 14 months of an agreement on another divisive issue – a new constitutional declaration.
Dbeibah said Tuesday that if no new date for elections was set he would start consultations on “a plan of action,” including elections and an amendment of the country’s transitional constitution.
The U.N.’s Libya adviser and Western powers have said they still recognize the Government of National Unity (GNU) and have urged Libya’s competing factions and political institutions to prioritize early elections rather than a new transitional period.