Imed Lamloum, AFP
Last updated: 30 October, 2012

New Libyan PM presents cabinet in test of democracy

Libya’s new premier presented Tuesday a cabinet that includes liberals and Islamists, in a fresh test of the country’s fledgling democracy after the 2011 armed uprising that ousted Moamer Kadhafi.

Prime Minister Ali Zeidan told the General National Congress he had included the main parties, among them the liberal National Forces Alliance (NFA) and the Islamist Justice and Construction Party, while some top posts were given to independents.

The 30-member cabinet includes 27 ministers and three deputy prime ministers.

Zeidan was elected on October 14 after his predecessor, Mustafa Abu Shagur, was dismissed in a vote of no confidence when the GNC rejected his cabinet line-up as unrepresentative of Libya’s numerous factions.

His new government faces many challenges in a country still awash with arms and struggling for reconciliation more than a year after the end of the revolt that overthrew and killed Colonel Kadhafi.

Its chief task is organising fresh elections within 12 months on the basis of a new constitution, which has yet to be drafted.

“I decided to put independents in charge of the ministries of foreign affairs, international cooperation, finance, justice, interior and defence,” Zeidan said in a televised address to the GNC.

The assembly must approve the government team before Zeidan, a long-time Kadhafi opponent, can assume office and replace Abdel Rahim al-Kib, who has held the post since November.

Among Zeidan’s nominations are Mohammed al-Barghathi as defence minister and Ashur Shwayel as interior minister, both natives of Benghazi, cradle of the 2011 revolt.

Barghathi, a 71-year-old fighter jet pilot who retired in 1994, was one of the first officers to join the anti-Kadhafi uprising.

Shwayel, 58, has a doctorate in law and served 35 years in the police force.

Zeidan nominated Ali Aujli, Libya’s ambassador to the United States, as foreign minister and Abdelbari al-Arussi, a native of the western town of Zawiyah, to head the strategic oil ministry.

He also proposed creating a new ministry of tourism, a first for the ultra-conservative Muslim country, which would be headed by Ikram Bash Imam, one of two women in the government team.

It is unclear whether the assembly will vote on Zeidan’s proposed cabinet as a whole or vote on each individual ministry.

Outlining his programme to the assembly on October 14, Zeidan proposed an “intensive training and recruitment campaign to boost the ranks of army and police” by integrating new members who can replace officers from the previous regime.

He also vowed to make national reconciliation and justice a top priority at a time when communal tensions and regional rivalries risk plunging the country into civil war.

Benefitting from the backing of the liberal coalition in the 200-seat assembly, Zeidan won 93 of the votes cast when elected, trumping the 85 garnered by the only other candidate propped up by Islamists.

The NFA boasts 39 of the 80 seats reserved for parties in the assembly while the second largest political force, the Justice and Construction Party which was launched by the Muslim Brotherhood, holds 17 seats.

The remaining seats are held by smaller parties and 120 independent candidates of mixed ideological and political convictions.

A 62-year-old career diplomat, Zeidan defected in 1980 while he was serving at the Libyan embassy in India, and spent the next three decades in exile.

He played a major role in winning international recognition for the political leadership of rebels who fought Kadhafi’s forces after an Arab Spring-inspired uprising escalated into civil war.

Kadhafi, who ruled Libya with an iron fist for 42 years, was captured and killed in his hometown of Sirte on October 20, 2011 after an eight-month conflict.