Tripoli — Libya's embattled parliament approved Sunday an Islamist-backed government despite boycotts from non-Islamists and threats from a renegade general who considers the chamber illegitimate.
Lawmakers said the government of Ahmed Maiteg passed with a majority vote, with 83 out of 93 present in the session voting in favor.
The parliament session was held amid tight security in a palace east of the capital after the renegade general's forces said that the legitimacy of the parliament has expired. A spokesman for Gen. Khalifa Hifter had threatened Saturday to attack the parliament session if it convened.
Hifter has launched an armed campaign he said is aimed at imposing stability after three years of chaos since the ouster and death of dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. He said he wants to break the power of Islamists who lead the parliament, whom he accuses opening the door to Islamic radicals.
It has been the biggest challenge yet to the country's weak central government and fledgling security forces. The vote Sunday is unlikely to break the standoff between the renegade general's forces and the Islamists and allied militia who called his moves a "coup."
Hifter's campaign, while plunging Libya deeper into uncertainty, has also been winning support from several prominent government officials, diplomats, and military units who have sided with him against the Islamists — both among the militias and in parliament. Thousands of residents went out in support of his campaign on Friday in different Libyan cities.
Last week, militia allied with Hifter stormed and ransacked the parliament building in Tripoli, declaring the body suspended. Two days later, some lawmakers tried to hold a session at an alternative location to vote on a new prime minister, but came under rocket fire, effectively ending the session.
Despite the attack, the parliament convened days later but failed to win approval for Maiteg's government because of an insufficient quorum.
"Today we waited until we had quorum and the majority voted for Maiteg's government," said lawmaker Mohammed Margham, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood bloc in parliament.
Margham said those who boycotted the session wanted to "obstruct the democratic process." He also called Hifter's threat to the parliament "a criminal act."
"This is the terrorism that must be fought," Margham said. "How can a political act be done under the threat of a gun."
The Libyan parliament is sharply divided, and was to be dissolved in February. Islamists led a motion to extend its mandate but after protests from opponents, the parliament agreed to an early vote, but didn't set a date.
Earlier this month, the parliament voted on Maiteg as a new prime minister, amid disputes and walkouts from non-Islamists.
Ezzeddin al-Awami, the first deputy speaker of the parliament who was among those who did not attend the session, said the vote on the Cabinet Sunday was "a disgrace to the democratic process" and endangered the country's stability because it ignored the opposition's demands. He called the vote violation of procedures, and said lawmakers were informed of the session after midnight Saturday via text messages, which didn't enable all to attend.
"There is tension because this government. I told (the Islamists) that there must be a delay to ensure agreement among all," he told Libya al-Ahrar TV.
Margham said a number of portfolios in the Cabinet have been left empty to allow for a more representative government as negotiations continue to bring on board those who had boycotted. The defense, health, planning and foreign ministry portfolios remained empty.
Amid the rising tension following the Hifter offensive, the election commission set new parliamentary elections for June 25, trying to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis.
On Sunday, the EU special envoy to Libya stressed the importance of holding those elections on time, and urged all political players to reach an agreement that preserves state institutions and fights terrorism.
Bernardino Leon also appeared to distance himself from Hifter, saying the EU has not been in touch with him and stressing that his group seeks a solution in the North African country that respects and bolsters state institutions. He added that the fight against terrorism "can only be carried out under the authority of the state and its legitimate institutions."
"We would like to also send a very clear message to those questioning institutions that what Libya needs today is that Libyan citizens support their institutions," Leon told reporters. "This country needs a strong state and the key is re-establishing the authority of the state."
He said popular support for Hifter's campaign signaled that Libyans were "fed up" with ineffective and bickering institutions.
"But this country needs reinforcing institutions... not people who go to try to solve problems by themselves."