Acting Like a Democracy, Libyan National Congress dismisses Prime Minister

On Sunday, the elected Libyan National Congress acted decisively to hold a vote of no confidence in Prime Minister Mustafa Abushagur. The same body had put him in power on September 12, but had grown increasingly impatient with his lack of leadership qualities. They complained that he took too long to form a government, that when he did it was full of former regime figures and non-entities, and that he seemed unwilling to engage them and defend his choices. When he presented his second, unsatisfactory slate of ministers to them on Sunday, they simply dumped him, by a vote of 125 to 44. The members of the Congress seem not to view this vote as a crisis, and plan to elect another prime minister shortly, either from outside the body or from among themselves.

the al-Safir correspondent believes that the Abushagur cabinet lineups were unacceptable to the Libyan ‘street.’ That is, the Congress members were not just being petulant, they were acting on complaints from their constituents.

There were, al-Safir argues, three main sorts of complaints.

1. One was that the cabinet ministers didn’t seem to have qualifications for their posts and there were fears they would be incompetent.

2. Others complained that the government didn’t look like the country, and that major revolutionary groups like the people of Zintan were not represented.

3. Others complained that the largest political party, Mahmoud Jibril’s National Forces Alliance, was excluded from posts, while the Muslim fundamentalists, who did poorly in July’s election, were over-represented. (Even Aljazeera concurs on this point.) The National Forces Alliance is a civil party that is nationalist and centrist.

The Libyan electorate is thought to be skittish about Muslim fundamentalists, and especially after radicals attacked the US consulate in Benghazi, may have been uncomfortable with having them be prominent in a cabinet that excluded the nationalists.

Abushagur was perhaps rightly dismissive of the demand that his cabinet be apportioned on a regional quota system. But for him to favor the widely disliked fundamentalists over the popular Jibril group was his major error.

I saw some tweets suggesting that the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood would benefit from Abushagur’s departure. I think that analysis profoundly misreads what happened.

After being ruled by a batty dictator 1969-2011, Libyans now have a democratically elected legislature, and they’ve just gotten rid of their third leader in the space of a year. The vote of no confidence in Abushagur was democratically accomplished and expressed genuine popular buyer’s remorse. It is no more a paralyzing crisis than the Californians’ recall of Gov. Gray Davis was. Unlike what you will read, the country is not politically terribly unstable, and it does have a government, which is the Congress.

Al-Safir doesn’t expect a new government for 3-4 weeks; that is probably too long.

Despite the appearance of instability created by Sunday’s vote, Libyans are proving themselves bold in their new, democratic politics.. The National Congress now needs to move quickly to install a more decisive prime minister, one who can put together a government with popular support and who can rapidly address the country’s security problems.

Posted in Libya | 10 Responses | Print |

10 Responses

  1. Act 3: Wherein the Libyan people realize what a pain in the ass democracy is.

    It’s like the old joke about gay marriage: why should straight people be the only ones who have to suffer?

  2. The National Forces Alliance represents a moderate, common sense voice of the Libyan people.

    U.S. intelligence previously was shown to have tried to curry favor with the Qaddafi regime and its intelligence leadership (e.g. Edwin Wilson in the 1970s and the more recent collusion resulting in the abduction and rendition of overseas Libyan dissidents near the end of Qaddafi’s reign).

    America has done much better when populist elements have overthrown totalitarian regimes(e.g. fall of the Soviet bloc in the 1989-1991 period and the Arab Spring movements)rather than the U.S. government’s sole reliance on its covert operations apparatus colluding with foreign military leaders of the host countries to install governments of its liking (e.g. Iran in 1953 and Pinochet in Chile in 1973).

    • Hellloooooo— Hello out there in GreatGameLand!

      Is anybody listening?

      Do any of you culs even care?

      Since, after all, stability and sustainability and stuff that proves there really is enough of everything that matters to go all the way around the whole table kind of gets in the way of your personal religion of MOREISM, as in “more for the few at the top, and screw everybody else since them at the top will only be around maybe a couple of decades and have places to run and hide and be very comfortable and have no fear of retribution or co-suffering if their parasitism and predations finally push everything past some ineluctable tipping point”?

      Mr. Koroi, “America” is a place that is mythical and as seldom visible as that town of Brigadoon. The small part of the “US” population that profits from this apex of human consumptive history, the small part that actually dictates how the rest of us live and die, is actively opposed to any motions in the wider world that lead to all the rest of us being anything but prey animals.

  3. As a suggestion to the General National Congress on choosing a PM who will likely best serve the nation there and the world too; someone open to the idea of protecting the Earth and her people from ravages of global warming going runaway would be best suited. -That is because that issue is only going to get bigger as urgency and awareness of the situation increases and by electing a candidate who has thought of Earth’s future into government makes sense. It would give complacency the shake and rattle the trees for best path forward for Libya and the enterprises of the future. It would help get common goal among people; a Desertification antidote.

    • I was pleasantly surprised by the attention the Transitional National Congress’s statements of policy gave to environmental issues during the war.

      As if they didn’t have enough to worry about.

  4. Dear Professor Cole,

    when Mr. Abushagur was selected as Prime Minister you hailed the event as “a little-noted major event” and “a remarkable achievement”. In your words, “Libyans again showed themselves nationalist and non-fundamentalist”, as Mr. Abushagur defeated the Muslim Brotherhood candidate.

    His prompt dismissal after only one month in office appears to indicate the profound regional/ethnic/clan differences separating Libyan society. Almost one year after Gaddafi’s death there is still no functioning government in place. This does remind me of Iraq where forming a government often took many months, even after a successful (purple fingers) election.

    You now say that “The National Congress now needs to move quickly to install a more decisive prime minister, one who can put together a government with popular support and who can rapidly address the country’s security problems.” THis is however exactly the task they failed to accomplish the first time around. What makes you confident that they will be more successful in the second go-around?

    Best regards,


    • all transitions have involved dismissed prime ministers, including Tunisia and Egypt. Jordan’s has been a revolving door for 18 months. There is nothing exceptionally dark about it happening in Libya. how long are you going to hate them for getting rid of Daffy?

    • This does remind me of Iraq where forming a government often took many months, even after a successful (purple fingers) election.

      You seem to be conflating three different things – the establishment of functional state services, the establishment of a functional system of democracy, and the establishment of a stable governing coalition within an parliamentary democracy.

      In Iraq, the former was established relatively quickly, while the second took much longer (and is still ongoing). In Libya, it’s just the opposite. They set up their democratic national government quite quickly, but the government is having trouble establishing its writ across the country. This is probably best explained by the absence of a foreign military in the aftermath of the dictatorship falling. It’s hard to have a real democracy with the US Army patrolling your streets, but it’s easy to establish government writ. Similarly, it’s easier to set up a functional democracy when your country isn’t under military occupation, but it’s a lot harder to build a state that can enforce its writ.

      As for the third, look at Italy. Some countries have frequent changes in leadership, and it’s not the end of the world.

    • Hey DJ,

      How about this for a backward 3rd-world republic; their first constitution was a disaster and had to be replaced; their 2nd president tried to create a police state that the future 3rd president plotted to overthrow; and their 3rd vice-president killed their secretary of the treasury in a duel and later was acquitted of treason.

      Yes, it’s the United States of America.

    Prof. Cole,

    Thank you for the tea leaves reading, however fluent and changing the situation is and will be for a good while. Thank you also for your good commenters, even when their appraisals may be different than yours and/or complementary.

    All the best,



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