Libya's highest court on Monday ruled that the parliament's election of Prime Minister Ahmed Maetig a month ago was unconstitutional, state media reported, ending a month-long standoff in the interim parliament.
While the Supreme Constitutional Court declared Maiteg's appointment unconstitutional, it gave no further details or instructions. But Islamists in parliament and Maiteg said they would abide by the decision, thus leaving interim Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni in office.
Libya's government and parliament are struggling to impose authority on a country awash with arms and militias, which ousted former leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 but now defy state authority. Gaddafi's one-man rule left Libya with few functioning institutions and no credible army to impose state authority on insurgents who oppose the state. In the country’s east, Khalifa Hifter, a renegade general, maintains an offensive against Islamist militias.
The head of the United Nations mission in Libya, Tarek Mitri, said he welcomed Monday's court ruling as “a sign of hope” but warned that the country's deeper political crisis was not over. He said that security, particularly in the east, had deteriorated.
"This would not solve the political crisis, but at least it would open the way forward towards the resumption of a normal political process," he told reporters on Monday.
Last month, former army general Hifter, who helped Gaddafi seize power in 1969 and relocated to the United States before returning to assist with his toppling, launched a military offensive against Islamist militias who Hifter blames for the country's instability.
Successive governments in Tripoli have failed to stamp their authority on militias that fought Gaddafi and have refused to surrender their arms or join the regular army.
The court's ruling on Monday also raised hope that some oil ports occupied for 10 months by rebels in Libya's east would reopen. In April, rebels signed an accord with the government of Maetig's predecessor to unblock the vital Mediterranean ports but its implementation stalled when they refused to deal with Maetig. Port rebel leader Ibrahim Jathran welcomed the Supreme Court ruling, according to a statement.
Libya badly needs a functioning government and the reactivation of oil exports — the only notable source of state revenue — to prevent a wholesale collapse of state authorities. Tripoli has no budget because the protests at oil ports and fields by militias and tribesmen have significantly reduced crude output. Libya has lost $30 billion from the oil strikes, a central bank official said last week.
Meanwhile, Mitri told the U.N. Security Council in New York that there had been no sustainable progress on disarmament and reintegration of armed groups, and that insecurity impeded the proper functioning of the justice system. Courts in the cities of Derna, Benghazi and Sirte had stopped working for prolonged periods to protest attacks against prosecutors, judges and other state officials, he said.
Maetig had been due to lead the country until the elections on June 25. A 42-year-old businessman from Misrata, he was elected with the support of independent and Muslim Brotherhood Islamists. But 12 opposition lawmakers later brought the matter to Libya's Supreme Court to challenge the vote that named Maetig as interim prime minister.
Outgoing Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni, a career army officer who resigned in April, had refused to hand over power to Maetig after some lawmakers questioned the validity of the vote and said he would wait for a court decision.
Libya has had two premiers — Thinni and Maetig — with two cabinets since the latter got elected, compounding a sense of anarchy and drift three years after the uprising that overthrew Gaddafi.
Al Jazeera and wire services