Libya’s parliament voted Wednesday to approve a unity government to lead the war-ravaged North African nation to December elections, a key step towards ending a decade of chaos.
Oil-rich Libya descended into chaos after dictator Moamer Kadhafi was toppled and killed in a NATO-backed uprising in 2011, resulting in multiple forces vying for power.
“This will be the government of all Libyans,” interim Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah said, in a brief but emotional speech after the vote.
“It is a historic day,” influential parliament speaker Aguila Saleh said.
After two days of intense debate in the central city of Sirte, parliament approved Dbeibah’s cabinet, with 121 of the 132 lawmakers present voting in support, his spokesman said.
The interim government must now tackle the daunting challenge of addressing the many grievances of Libyans, from a dire economic crisis and soaring unemployment to crippling inflation and wretched public services.
Libya has been split between the UN-recognised Government of National Accord, based in the capital Tripoli and backed by Turkey, and an administration in the east supported by military strongman Kalifa Haftar, with the backing of the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia.
But a UN-supervised process aims to unite the country after an October ceasefire, and the new government has to bring the rival administrations together.
Lawmakers met in Sirte, Kadhafi’s hometown, a Mediterranean port city which lies halfway between Tripoli, where the western government is based, and the east, where parliament has sat in recent years.
Dbeibah, 61, a billionaire businessman from the western city of Misrata, was selected in February alongside an interim three-member presidency council to head the new unity administration.
The process has been marred by allegations of vote-buying, but the interim premier defended the composition of his government.
“My first objective was to choose people with whom I would be able to work, no matter where they come from,” Dbeibah said, during the debate in parliament.
Dbeibah’s government includes two deputy prime ministers, 26 ministers and six ministers of state, with the key foreign affairs and justice portfolios handed to women, a first in Libya.
The United Nations Support Mission in Libya, or UNSMIL, called the parliament meeting “historic” and praised the convening of a “reunified session after many years of divisions and paralysis”.
Another key task facing the new administration is ensuring the departure of an estimated 20,000 mercenaries and foreign fighters. Dbeibah told lawmakers they were “a stab in our back.”
The premier said Tuesday he would tell the United Nations and the countries where the mercenaries come from to demand they withdraw.
A January 23 deadline for their withdrawal passed without any sign of them pulling them out.
Some have literally dug in. In January, satellite images broadcast by CNN showed a trench running tens of kilometres (miles) dug by “Russian mercenaries” near the frontline city of Sirte.
An advance team of a UN observer mission arrived in Libya last week tasked with monitoring the ceasefire and verifying the departure of the thousands of foreign fighters.