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Libyans vote

Andreas Gorzewski / jrbFebruary 19, 2014

Libyans will vote Thursday on a constitutional assembly. But observers doubt whether a new constitution will bring sufficient stability to the crisis-ridden North African country.

Protests in Lybia
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Libya remains in a state of chaos three years after the revolution against the dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Separatists are blocking oil exports, the deputy minister of industry has been shot, and the government and parliament have locked horns in a long-standing dispute. Militias have also made numerous areas unsafe.

Unlike neighboring Egypt and Tunisia, where long-timer rulers were also brought down in 2011, Libya still has no new constitution. To change that, Libyans will vote on a constitutional assembly on Thursday (20.02.2014). But whether their votes will lead to any long-term stability in the country remains to be seen.

Although Libya is poised to receive a new constitution for the first time following 40 years of Gadhafi rule, there are few signs of political optimism. Less than one third of eligible voters have registered to vote, according to Claudia Gazzini of the International Crisis Group in Libya.

Not only votes count

“Whether this body will be representative is still an open question,” she told DW.

Nearly 650 candidates are vying for the 60 seats in the constitutional assembly. The number of votes, however, is not the only criterion determining who joins it; women, Libya's various regions and ethnic minorities should also be adequately represented through quotas. Representatives of the Berber ethnic group have already announced a boycott, claiming they are not sufficiently represented with two seats.

There has been no campaigning in the run-up to the vote, according to Gazzini. The candidates are running as independents - and not as members of a particular party - to increase their prospects for success. The long-standing dispute in the transitional government is responsible for that. Many Libyans are fed up with the trench wars among the Alliance of National Forces, the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups.

Lybyan parliamentarians
Lybyan parliamentarians have agreed to new electionsImage: MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images

Many Libyans are uncertain how to vote, with the largely unknown candidates lacking a clear connection to a party. “Many voters don't even know what the candidates support,” said Gazzini.

The new assembly is to present a draft for a new constitution within four months. That sounds ambitious, since the establishment of state structures and political institutions still lags far behind all schedules. The General National Congress (GNC), as the transitional parliament is called, was to determine a constitutional committee within one month of its election in 2012.

Plenty of hurdles

By the end of 2013, a draft was supposed to be submitted. The transitional parliament's mandate actually ended on February 7, 2014, according to the initial schedule to which the revolutionaries agreed after the fall of Gadhafi in the summer of 2011. But the parliamentarians extended their own term of office.

Many Libyans opposed the move and took the streets to protest against the parliamentarians, who, in their view, achieved hardly anything over the past 18 months. Eventually, the parliamentarians gave in and agreed to new elections.

Even when the 60 members of the constitutional assembly do present their draft, the hurdles to its adoption remain high. The next transitional parliament must first approve the new constitution. Then in a referendum, Libyans must agree to it with a two-thirds majority.

The discussions are revolving around three key questions: how much power for the regions; what rights for the minorities; how much influence for Sharia. “This new body will certainly have the same problems that the transitional parliament had in dealing with the rival visions of what the country should look like,” said Gazzini. Besides the dispute over content, the work will be inhibited by a lack of experience, for instance, in conducting political debates, she added.

Libyan protestors
Libyan protestors have taken to the streets on more than one ocassion in recent yearsImage: Reuters

Improving qualit of life

According to Anas el-Gomati, founder of the Libyan think tank, the Sadeq Institute, people in the country have more to worry about than just constitutional details. “Bad power supply, roads, schools and health care affects everyone - children, teenagers, adults and the elderly,” said el-Gomati. By contrast, the role of Sharia plays only a subordinate role.

A new constitution and further steps in the transition process will not bring stability to the crisis-ridden country, maintains el-Gomati. What is more important is to improve people's quality of life. Only then will the situation change.

In the debates over the future development, Gazzini has observed a trend: Pressure is mounting to adopt the constitution from the period before Gadhafi as the basis for a new constitution. Many Libyans argue that they will never agree to what Libya should be. So why not, they ask, return to the pre-1969 constitution?