By Valerie Stocker,
Tripoli, 11 April 2013:
The General National Congress last night confirmed that the Commission that will draft Libya’s new Constitution . . .[restrict]shall be elected, as opposed to nominated, ending a long drawn-out debate that had kept Congress members from agreeing on other critical issues.
With regards to the isolation law that is yet to be passed, the GNC resolved that it was not unconstitutional and could not be overruled by the Supreme Court.
Now that an agreement has been reached on the principal issue – vote or appointment – a previously formed congressional advisory committee or board will be tasked with elaborating the law for the election of the Constitutional Commission.
The advisory board is made up of three Congress members – Suleiman Zubi from Benghazi, Mohamed Tumi from Sebha and Shabaan Abuseita from Nalut, all of whom are independents – in addition to legal experts from the 13 electoral constituencies. There is some confusion regarding the overall number of board members, with anything between 13 and 18 being stated. According to several Congressmen, the board members have been appointed and approved, after Congress objected to those initially put forward, and are going to convene within the next few days. A full list of names could not be provided, however. The board includes several women and two representatives for the minorities, said Suleiman Zubi.
There was some controversy regarding the formation of the advisory board, as more emphasis was put on geographical representation than on actual expertise, as has been claimed.
Having decided that the Political Isolation Law project is constitutionally acceptable, as long as it complies with international conventions and human rights, the GNC can now focus on elaborating the final text that many in Libya are awaiting with impatience.
“This ruling was essential, as the Supreme Court could otherwise have declared the future law inconsistent with the Constitutional Declaration, which states, for instance, that all citizens have equal rights”, explained Mukhtar Al-Atrash, independent Congress member from Khoms (Constituency No. 10).
Meanwhile, the GNC vote on reducing the congressional quorum needed to pass any decision, which had been announced for this Sunday, has been postponed, according to Suleiman Zubi.
With yesterday’s ruling, the GNC has put an end to a debate that had been going on for a year and a half.
“The decision is final; there will be no more discussion on whether or not the Committee of Sixty is to be elected or not”, Mukhtar Al-Atrash, commented to the Libya Herald.
Set out as a major milestone on the road to a democratic political system, the formation of a constituent assembly has proven more controversial than initially expected. In August 2011, the former National Transitional Council issued its Constitutional Declaration, authorizing the future National Assembly to select a “constitutional power for formulating the Constitution” which would then submit its draft to the National Assembly (and later to the general public) for approval, as stipulated in article 30 of the Declaration.
In a first constitutional amendment on 13 March 2012, the NTC specified the provisions relating to the Constitutional Commission, stating that it should be made up of 60 non-members of the National Assembly. This “Committee of Sixty” was reminiscent of the assembly that drafted Libya’s first constitution before independence in 1951 and which consisted of 20 representatives for each of the three historic provinces of Libya – Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan.
In what was interpreted as a move to curtail its successor’s powers, the NTC again amended the Constitutional Declaration on 5 July 2012, two days before the national elections, stating that the members of the Constitutional Commission would be elected by free ballot rather than appointed by the GNC (Amendment No. 3 of 2012).
Following an appeal filed by a number of lawyers, the Supreme Court invalidated this second constitutional amendment on 28 February 2013, pointing out that it had not been decided by an absolute two-thirds majority in the NTC, as required.
This fairly confusing sequence of decisions and modifications is the backdrop to the decision taken by the GNC yesterday, by which it validated last year’s NTC decision to have the Constitutional Commission elected. Although the congressional debate did not bring any fundamental changes, it showed that that there is a will to end the stalemate and speed up the constitution drafting process.