Race to draft a constitution for Libya

13 February 2014

Libya’s political vacuum persists as the government scrambles to draft a new constitution before deadlock causes more harm

With an extension to its mandate and elections set for 20 February, Libya’s General National Council must move quickly to draft a new constitution or risk seeing the country fall further into despair. The timeline was always ambitious and the body has found itself locked in stalemate and unable to put together a drafting committee. Eighteen months after being elected, Libya’s ministers continue to call for patience, but the population has grown frustrated with the lack of progress.

Sluggish social and economic development, insecurity in the south of Libya, with its porous borders and the blockade of the eastern oil terminals are the country’s biggest issues. In the south, the main demand is for a commitment from the government to the region’s economic development. The eastern federalist movements accuse the government of corruption, and are seeking a greater share of the country’s oil revenues, and autonomy, if not outright independence.

Militias still operate across huge swathes of the country, making a mockery of the state’s ability to impose the law. Even those that have been co-opted by the government, so gaining a semblance of legitimacy, remain largely autonomous and act on their own whims. The increasing frequency of kidnappings and shootings, even in the capital, also jeopardises the return of the international contractors Libya needs to move forwards with its reconstruction efforts.

Both issues have been driven by the sense that Libya’s transitional governments have failed to be inclusive or transparent in their dealings with other groups. The lack of effectiveness only adds to the problem.

The disconnect between the central government and local authorities has exacerbated Libya’s long-standing tribal rivalries. Transition has become a game, in which each region, militia or movement must assert itself to secure its claims. The constitution is a critical battleground for each of them.

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