International efforts to end the chaos in Libya took a step forward on Monday as a new national unity government was proposed to lawmakers.
A UN-backed council of rival Libyan factions announced the formation of the revised cabinet late on Sunday, after a previous government was rejected last month in a blow to peace efforts.
Years of political turmoil since the 2011 overthrow of longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi has left Libya divided between rival governments and beset by violence as militia forces battle for power.
The oil-rich North African nation has also become an increasingly important haven for the Islamic State group just across the Mediterranean from Europe.
Members of Libya’s internationally recognised parliament, based in the eastern city of Tobruk, said they expected a vote on the new government later on Monday.
“Deputies are on their way to parliament and preparations are under way. The voting session will take place today,” lawmaker Ali Takbali told AFP.
Approval of the cabinet — headed by prime minister-designate Fayez al-Sarraj — would be a vital step in resolving Libya’s political disarray, capping off months of difficult diplomacy.
The UN’s Libya envoy Martin Kobler urged members of the House of Representatives (HoR) to stand behind the new administration.
“The journey to peace and unity of the Libyan people has finally started,” Kobler wrote on Twitter.
“It is crucial now that HoR endorses the government of national unity. It’s a unique peace opportunity that must not be missed.”
The so-called Presidency Council, tasked under the peace effort with forming the government, revised the line-up after parliament rejected a 32-member cabinet, saying it was too large.
It had set a 10-day deadline for a smaller cabinet which expired on Sunday.
– Fears over jihadists –
“We hope that this will be the beginning of the end of the conflict in Libya,” council member Fathi el-Mejebri said on Sunday from Skhirat, Morocco, where the group has been meeting.
The revised government would be composed of 18 ministers and Mahdi al-Barghati would be in charge of the ministry of defence — a post which had been a major stumbling block in talks.
Barghati is close to Libya’s internationally recognised administration but his nomination was opposed by powerful army chief General Khalifa Haftar.
Divisions remain — two of the council’s nine members refused to endorse the government — but lawmakers told AFP dissidents were in the minority.
Two thirds of lawmakers need to first approve the overall political agreement and then a simple majority must pass the confidence vote in the government.
The internationally recognised government is based in Libya’s far east, having fled Tripoli after a militia alliance including Islamists overran the capital in August 2014.
The alliance has established its own administration and parliament called the General National Congress.
About a third of GNC members supported the unity deal when it was agreed in December but its formal approval is not required for the government to start working.
The power-sharing deal has been given added urgency by fears that IS, under pressure in Syria and Iraq, is establishing a new stronghold in Libya.
The jihadist group has seized control of Kadhafi’s coastal hometown of Sirte and launched a wave of assaults on rival forces, including suicide attacks that have killed dozens in recent months.
It has also made a concerted push to seize key oil facilities in Libya, which sits on estimated reserves of 48 billion barrels, the largest in Africa.
Foreign diplomats have piled pressure on Libyan officials to finalise the unity government and expressed deep concern over IS’s growing influence.
Meeting in Rome earlier this month top diplomats from the US-led coalition bombing IS in Syria and Iraq rejected calls for foreign military intervention in Libya, insisting instead on the need for political stability.