John Bolton: Libya elections set to be lopsided

There are efforts underway to remove the members of the Libyan interim government — not just his own.

This is not just an issue in Libya. It is happening now across much of the Middle East and North Africa as political tensions rise and a host of authoritarian, but democratically elected governments struggle to deal with a host of issues.

Next Monday, Libya’s interim prime minister, Abdullah al-Thinni, will meet with the country’s interim parliament as the conference begins for an overdue makeover.

The Libyan parliament could elect an interim president and send its next draft to voters for a referendum.

But that question of election rules has become a bone of contention.

As things stand now, 40 of the 69 members of the National Transitional Council (NTC) that replaced Moammar Gadhafi’s regime are opposed to any additions that are not agreed upon. Thinni, his attorney general and members of his former cabinet are said to have accused Thinni of violating “legitimate sources of government.”

While international powers are trying to coordinate the election, it is likely that Thinni will return to prime minister after the congress approves the basic election rules.

Whether or not this “misinterpretation” of his mandate survives its confrontation with the legislature is an open question.

However, Thinni had no qualms about accusing lawmakers who stood with the majority last December when the NTC removed him from power.

In a television interview, Thinni said the overwhelming majority of the cabinet was “parliamentarians who were under pressure from their constituents” to let him go, and predicted that many members of the outgoing cabinet will be back “within a short time.”

Indeed, people close to the prime minister have their eye on the presidency position, while most appear to be resigned to his position.

“We are changing the elite,” Thinni told a news conference, “but it will not change the essence of the government.”

That aspect of the government may be what bothers Thinni the most.

Amid all the schisms in the Libyan government — which has itself been criticized as poorly managed — it’s easy to forget that the system was still in use before Gadhafi lost power.

Gadhafi was in power for more than 42 years, and during his time in power, several members of the transitional council (NTC) had previously served in Gadhafi’s government. In fact, many had risen through the ranks of the dictatorship.

Those naysayers in the parliament apparently thought they had the upper hand by pushing Thinni out.

For Thinni, though, politics goes beyond having executive authority in a country that faces even greater turmoil in a country still searching for a government. It’s a personal tug of war.

Thinni is a prominent figurehead among rebel fighters. He heads one of the largest political movements within Libya, and his well-known son is one of the regime’s most powerful figures. It is quite conceivable that Thinni would want to secure greater influence for his son.

No doubt the competition with parliament has worried Thinni. As he told the BBC, “Nobody has ever had this honor (of being prime minister).”

Still, despite the difficulties facing the interim prime minister, it’s possible he will emerge victorious. The reason: lawmakers have so far been unable to agree on other candidates for the presidency or prime minister position.

John Bolton is a Fox News Channel foreign affairs analyst and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

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