TRIPOLI–The head of Libya’s Turkish-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) said Wednesday he planned to step down within six weeks, adding to the confusion in an already-muddled political landscape.
Libya has endured almost a decade of violent chaos since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime ruler Muammar Qaddafi.
Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj’s GNA has battled against a rival administration in eastern Libya led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA), whose offensive against the regime in Tripoli recently ground to a halt after heavy Turkish intervention backing the GNA.
Both sides have since met for peace talks in Morocco after announcing a surprise ceasefire and pledging national elections in statement issues last month.
Sarraj said during a brief televised address on Wednesday evening that he was willing to leave his post in favour of a new executive determined by talks.
“I announce to all my sincere wish to cede my functions to the next administration before the end of October at the latest,” he said.
The talks had outlined the process for determining a new Presidential Council and the appointment of a new head of government who would take office “peacefully,” Sarraj added.
He welcomed the “preliminary and promising recommendations” agreed to during the Morocco dialogue.
The Morocco summit, dubbed the “Libyan Dialogue,” has brought together five members of the Tripoli-based GNA and five from the rival parliament headquartered in the eastern city of Tobruk.
Talks have focused on distribution by region of responsibility for the country’s key institutions, with the naming of the heads of Libya’s Central Bank, its National Oil Corporation and the armed forces are the main points of dispute.
Sarraj, who arrived in Tripoli on Wednesday after a visit to his close ally Turkey, urged negotiators to quickly name the new administration to “secure a peaceful and smooth transition.”
Last month he called for a ceasefire and the demilitarisation of Sirte and Jufra area. Aguila Saleh, speaker of the rival eastern-based House of Representatives, supported Sarraj’s proposal for demilitarisating Sirte, but called for government security supervision over it as opposed to militia control.
He did not mention Jufra, which includes a vital military airbase held by Haftar. The warring sides have been building up in and around Sirte.
Sarraj’s announcement adds to the confusion fuelled by power jockeying in Tripoli and protests east and west of the country.
Protests over dire living conditions and corruption have erupted in recent weeks across the divided country. The demonstrations exposed a rift within the Tripoli government and led the rival administration in the east to resign.
“This is effectively the starting gun for a new round of maneuvering for what comes next,” said Tarek Megerisi, a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
“Ultimately it’ll leave the GNA as an entity, and western Libya, a bit degraded,” he added.
An LNA blockade of energy exports since January has deprived the Libyan state of most of its usual revenue, worsening living standards and contributing to protests in cities controlled by both sides.
In Tripoli, the protests fuelled tensions between Sarraj and the influential Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha, whom he briefly suspended last month over rumours of a coup plot before restoring him to his post.
Sarraj’s departure could lead to new infighting among other senior GNA figures, and between the armed groups from Tripoli and Bashagha’s coastal city of Misrata that wield control on the ground.
“The militia issue will be more vivid,” said Jalel Harchoui, a research fellow at the Clingendael Institute.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said at a news conference Wednesday that Libya requires a new political process.
“That political process needs to renew the institutions that exist and, at the same time, to move for elections in an acceptable delay,” he said. “There are signs of hope.”
Guterres said also there are “promising contacts” to agree on a lasting ceasefire rather than the currently existing military standstill.