Tripoli, 6 February 2013:
The Constitutional Commission is to be elected in a national vote, not appointed by the National General Congress.
Congress made the decision in its morning session today, Wednesday. According to the GNC’s spokesman, Omar Hemidan, the decision was supported by 87 of the 97 members attending the session.
Members met in a tent outside the Congress building because a small handful of wounded revolutionary veterans have been occupying the chamber since Sunday.
Controversy has raged for the past eight months over the selection of the Commission’s 60 members — 20 each from Libya’s three historic provinces: Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan. The original constitutional declaration of August 2011 by the former National Transitional Council had it that Congress would appoint the Commission. However, on the eve of the Congressional elections last July, the NTC changed the rules. In a bid to placate Cyrenaica federalists threatening to disrupt the poll, it decided that the commission would be directly elected.
Following the July elections, however, several Congress members indicated they wanted to abolish the NTC change on the basis that it would be more sensible for the Commission to be made up of legal experts rather than possible populists who might try to make political mileage for themselves by beating their own region’s drum.
Today’s decision was nonetheless widely expected. There has been strong support for elections, not just in the east of the country. An opinion poll late last year suggested that the majority of people in Tripoli also want the Commission to be elected. At the end of December, a conference organised by the influential Dar Al-Ifta (the Fatwa Office), led by the Grand Mufti, Sheikh Sadeq Al-Ghariani, and by the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs and the Ministry of Local Government, also called for the Commission to be elected. (In this case, however, there was also a call that the Dar Al Ifta should be able to veto candidates.)
Just one week ago, a committee linked to Congress, the Loyalty to the Martyrs Association, called on Congress to stop wasting time with discussions on whether the Commission should be elected or appointed. It said it was destablising and that Congress should “proceed immediately” to a decision on the Commission, and that it should go for an election.
Lawyers and Congress members have also said that it does not matter if the Commission is elected, because its proposals will still have to be approved by Congress before being put to a referendum.
The timing of the announcement is seen as significant. Just as last year’s decision by the NTC to have the Commission elected rather than appointed was regarded as an eve-of-election attempt to placate Cyrenaica federalists, today’s decision comes just over week before their planned 15 February anti-GNC and anti-government protests which have caused considerable security concerns throughout the country.
A Congressional committee will be set up in the next couple of days, according to Hemidan. It will re-form the High National Electoral Commission so that the latter can set up the process of the Constitutional Commission election and oversee it.
The decision to go for an elected Commission was welcomed this afternoon by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).
Calling the move “an important milestone”, the head of UNSMIL, Tarek Mitri, said that the UN would be ready to assist the Libyan authorities in the electoral process if requested.