Friday,22 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1404, (2 - 8 August 2018)
Friday,22 February, 2019
Issue 1404, (2 - 8 August 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Libyan plan fails

UN Special Envoy to Libya Ghassan Salamé is no closer to implementing his work plan on the Libyan crisis, writes Kamel Abdallah


Libyan plan fails
Libyan plan fails

Developments in the Libyan House of Representatives last week confirmed the failure of the work plan for Libya that UN Special Envoy Ghassan Salamé unveiled during a high-level meeting on the Libyan crisis on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York on 20 September 2017.

The plan called for limited amendments to the Libyan Political Agreement signed by the major Libyan factions on 17 December 2015, the formation of a new government, a comprehensive national convention to discuss outstanding differences, and general elections before the end of this year. However, not even the first phase of the plan got off the ground.

The most recent setback was the failure of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HR) to pass the constitutional referendum law which would have enabled the reintroduction of a constitution in the country for the first time in half a century.

Most of the Libyan parties have insisted on the establishment of a constitutional foundation as the condition for holding legislative elections, as this should ensure a solid basis of legitimacy for national government institutions whose authority has eroded since the governmental bifurcation in 2014.

The Constitution Drafting Assembly (CDA) submitted the draft of a new constitution to the HR in July 2017. It was approved by a majority in a stormy session in which both federalists and centralists voiced objections, with some demanding revisions, others the dissolution of the current CDA and the creation of a new constituent assembly to draft a new constitution, and others still calling for the reinstatement of the 1951 constitution as amended in 1963 to abolish the federal system.

Because of the tensions, the HR deferred deliberation of the constitutional referendum law for a year. Last week, it was reintroduced for a vote despite objections on the grounds of contentions over the constitutional bill itself.

The law requires a two-thirds majority in the HR in order to pass, and a major sticking point has been Article 8 which raises issues of legality.

Article 8 of the law states that “if the constitutional bill does not win the confidence of the people, the activities of the Constituent Assembly will be terminated and the HR will choose a 30-member commission within 30 days charged with drafting a constitution. This work shall be completed within three months of the date the commission is approved.”

In the previous version, the draft constitution would have been returned to the existing CDA for revisions after which “the constitutional bill as revised by the Constituent Assembly will be submitted to the House of Representatives to take the necessary measures within a maximum of 10 days to put it to a referendum. The electoral commission shall then begin to arrange for a second referendum within 30 days after being notified to do so.”

HR Speaker Aqilah Saleh suspended the Monday session in which members were supposed to vote on the constitutional referendum law to the following day in response to Western pressures. However, the newly introduced wording to Article 8 requires an amendment to the Libyan Constitutional Declaration of August 2011 before the referendum law can be brought to a vote.

Article 30 of the 2011 Constitutional Declaration states that “the constitutional bill shall be put to a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ referendum within 30 days of its approval. If the Libyan people approve the bill by a two-thirds majority, the Constituent Assembly [ie the CDA] shall ratify it as the nation’s constitution, and it shall be submitted to [parliament] for promulgation. If the bill is not approved, the Constituent Assembly will revise it and put it to a referendum again within no more than 30 days after the results of the first referendum are announced.”

As a result, the fate of the constitutional bill still remains up in the air a year after it was approved by the HR, while important social, ethnic, and regional components of the country, such as the Tabou, Touareg and Amazigh communities, and advocates of a federal system continue to harbour strong reservations on the constitutional bill.

It has been suggested that the reason the bill was put to a vote last week was in order to exonerate the HR, which Salamé in his latest briefing to the UN Security Council held responsible for obstructing a solution to the Libyan crisis and prolonging the five-year political stagnation.

Salamé hopes to fulfill his plan to hold elections in Libya before the end of the year. He is supported by France, which has put forward a parallel initiative to the UN-sponsored one in order to accelerate progress towards elections before the end of the year. Both initiatives have since run aground.

As a way to salvage his plan, the UN envoy has pressed ahead with plans for the Libyan national convention, delegating the task of arranging consultative meetings in towns and regions across Libya to the Geneva-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue.

The centre has also attempted to mediate in Libya without success. However, it has compiled the results of surveys and opinion polls conducted during meetings with Libyan groups that have taken place over the past two months preparatory to the national conference that Salamé hopes to hold in August in Ghadames.

An oasis town in western Libya near the border with Algeria and Tunisia, Ghadames hosted the initial stages of the UN-sponsored Libyan Dialogue which eventually resulted in the Libyan Political Agreement signed in Skhirat, Morocco, in December 2015.

Against this complicated backdrop, which appears to have conspired to frustrate the UN envoy and France’s plans to hold general elections in Libya before the end of the year, the internationally recognised authorities in Tripoli, with western support, are preparing to carry out economic reform plans in the country.

At the same time, the US has given the green light to Italy to take the lead in the European management of the Libyan crisis. Following a meeting with US President Donald Trump in the White House on Monday, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said that Trump had agreed that Rome should be “a reference point in Europe and the main interlocutor for the main issues that need to be faced in the Mediterranean region and Libya in particular.” 

He added that Trump had approved joint operations that would include the defence and foreign ministries of both countries and focus on counter-terrorism and combating illegal migration.

Rome has thus won a major advantage in the context of the European leadership of the Libyan crisis, and it has scored a major point against Paris, with which Rome has been in heated competition on how best to deal with the Libyan crisis.

Conte’s victory may well have put paid to French plans to arrange for Libyan parliamentary and presidential elections on 10 December.

Meanwhile, at the UN level the new deputy head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), Stephanie T Williams, has begun intensive consultations with Libyan figures in order to learn their views on the crisis in the country.

 Her assumption of the leadership of UN efforts in Libya in the absence of UNSMIL chief Salamé is significant in that she believes it is more important for Libyans to sort out their outstanding differences and to reach a political settlement first before holding the general and presidential elections.

Now that Salamé’s plans have stalled, it is unclear what his course of action will be. Will he continue to push for elections in December? Or will he announce a new plan for reviving the political process and restarting negotiations between the Libyan players?

The answers to these questions should become clear before the end of September.

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