Libyan prime minister ousted by parliament

Western-backed leader voted out after independent militia looks to export oil using North Korea-flagged tanker

Ali Zeidan, once backed by the West, has fled Libya amid an investigation probe.
Abdeljalil Bounhar/AP Photo

Libya's parliament on Tuesday voted out Prime Minister Ali Zeidan – Libya’s first democratically-elected leader – and replaced him with the defense minister, who will act as interim prime minister until parliamentary elections slated for July.  

Zeidan had struggled for the 15 months since he came to power to establish government control over various militias who are demanding greater autonomy for parts of the country.

Tuesday’s parliamentary vote came days after the arrival in Libya of a North Korean-flagged tanker, apparently to be used by an independent militia to export oil it controls – escalating concerns about political and economic stability under the Zeidan administration. 

Political chaos has stymied oil production in the North African nation, all but freezing the national economy and forcing the government to tap into reserves to pay public servants, Boston-based North African affairs analyst Arezki Daoud told Al Jazeera.

Oil production has seen a major decline amid mounting chaos to 230,000 barrels per day (bpd), from 1.4 million bpd in July.

Fakhri Malek, spokesman for Libya's secular Democratic Party, told Al Jazeera his party is "very happy to see the end of the administration of Mr. Zeidan — a corrupt prime minister, incompetent."

Malek cited the nation's flailing economy and violent clashes among regional and tribal factions as chief concerns.

"He presided over the fragmentation of Libya. Libya is in a bad state now, because of his policies. We want to see him tried in Libya."

Malek said his party is considering launching a lawsuit against Zeidan, adding that the leader spent an estimated $66 billion during his administration "and achieved nothing on the ground."

Libya's chief prosecutor on Tuesday banned Zeidan from leaving the country while authorities investigate allegations of Zeidan's corruption.

Daoud, the analyst, seemed to agree with Malek.

"The Zeidan era has been a disaster for the country. The Zeidan administration was about establishing a centralized government when the country was begging for decentralized leadership," he said.

"The only option left for Libya now is to create federal states or states within a federation. It's not something most Western governments probably want. Unfortunately, it's the only way forward."

Daoud said Zeidan's failed attempts to centralize Libyan rule were somewhat reminiscent of slain former leader Muammar Gaddafi, ousted in a 2011 Arab Spring revolt.

"For the decision-makers behind the scenes — the Western governments — is there is not one single unifying person who is going to bring that country together. Like it or not, Gaddafi was that figure. We don't see that anymore." 

Spiraling into chaos

Libya's government has been paralyzed for months by the power struggle between Islamists in parliament trying to remove Zeidan and anti-Islamist political factions. Zeidan's removal came as another fault line in the country was rumbling — between the central government and the restive eastern half of the country, where many are demanding greater autonomy. Each side has their own militias.

The eastern, pro-autonomy militia, headed by a commander named Ibrahim Jedran, has controlled the al-Sidra oil terminal and other oil facilities in the east for months in defiance of the central government, effectively shutting down exports of the country's biggest revenue earner. This week Jedran's militia sought for the first time to export oil itself, with a North Korean-flagged tanker docked at the al-Sidra port.

Pro-government militias said Monday they recaptured the tanker, a claim Jedran's militia denies. The status of the tanker has not been independently confirmed, but officials in the capital Tripoli have vowed to rally their forces to retake not only al-Sidra but also the other facilities held by eastern militias — a move that could spark wider fighting with the east.

A group of pro-autonomy leaders of eastern tribes issued a statement Tuesday warning that the clashes and the drive to take back the oil facilities could push them to increase their demands to "separation" for the eastern region, known as Barqa. "We are not responsible for any repercussions," they warned, saying they support Jedran's forces and its bid to sell the oil.

From the other camp, Col. Hassan Shaka said his forces had taken Sirte and told the LANA news agency his fighters would continue east to retake the oil terminals.

Zeidan has appeared particularly helpless in recent days in trying to deal with the crisis over the oil tanker. He told reporters on Saturday that the nation's military does not carry out his orders and complained that "everyone is working against the government."

After the "no" vote carried Tuesday vote of confidence, parliament named the defense minister, Abdullah al-Thinni, as interim prime minister until a replacement for Zeidan is found.

Zeidan had no immediate public reaction to the vote. But in an interview recorded Tuesday before his ouster, he told the Libyan Al-Ahrar TV that if parliament withdraws confidence, "I will be very happy because they would help me get out of this hard responsibility."

Al Jazeera and wire serivces

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