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Libyans need a government - not politicking

By firing the new prime minister, Libyan lawmakers exercised their democratic right. But somebody has to be found to govern the country and soon.

When power struggles happen in the streets, they signal trouble. When they take place in the legislature, they're a sign of healthy democracy. In Libya, they are going on at both levels.

A country urgently in need of unity and effective government may have moved towards that goal on Sunday, paradoxically, when the General National Congress sacked Prime Minister Mustafa Abushagur, who had taken office last month. The dismissal came after the Congress rejected his 10-member "crisis cabinet". It was his second try; his first cabinet of 29 ministers incurred both public protests and a legislative rebuff.

The fractious Congress was meeting again yesterday to manage the aftermath of its foray into democratic accountability. Across the country, meanwhile, the 6.4 million Libyans continue to live with the uncertainty created by disorder and bluster among the welter of tribes, militias, factions and regional interests unleashed by the fall of Muammar Qaddafi.

There can be no doubt that very many Libyans yearn for peace, order and good government: there was ample evidence of that in the popular protest against the militants who killed the US ambassador, Chris Stevens, last month.

The Congress, to be sure, did just what a legislature is supposed to do: it rejected an executive action it deemed wrong. However, the 125-to-44 vote, with 19 abstentions, was held in secret; Libyans don't know which lawmakers backed the aborted cabinet and which opposed it.

However the Muslim Brotherhood, which fared poorly in legislative elections, is reportedly cooperating now with the National Forces Alliance, a non-Islamist bloc linked to Mahmoud Jibril, who was the interim PM during Libya's civil war. Last month Mr Jibril's bid for the prime ministry was rejected, somewhat surprisingly, in favour of Mr Abushagur's.

An Alliance-Brotherhood coalition might be what Libya needs - provided it can create the momentum to get a cabinet approved, so defence and interior ministers can tackle the security situation and other problems.

If the new Libya is going to be a modern state, these newly formed parties have to grasp the idea that a united country can be much more than the sum of its parts, and that compromise is therefore worthwhile. But compromise requires trust, and to be trustworthy, party leaders must offer vision, integrity, pragmatism, the skill to communicate and an honest willingness to share power.

Those are the characteristics the Congress must now discover in a new prime minister - and in itself.

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