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Libya’s tortuous path towards a constitution and elections | Politics News



Geneva, Switzerland – Members of a newly elected Libyan interim government pledged in Geneva this week to take the country to national elections on December 24 of this year, an ambitious timeline studded with almost impossible challenges.

The interim authorities nominated by the 75-member Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) under the umbrella of the United Nations are to replace the Government of National Accord (GNA), considered no longer able to usher the country into a phase of national reconciliation and state-building.

The three-member Presidential Council (PC) and the prime minister will have the crucial task of preparing the ground for fair and transparent national elections and ensuring the safe participation of their citizens in the electoral process.

For elections to take place, the GNA and the outgoing PC will have to peacefully dissolve to give way to the new unity executive, which will require the endorsement of Libya’s parliament. Conflicting financial institutions will have to be unified, armed groups dismantled, essential civil infrastructure repaired, and security restored to allow half a million internally displaced citizens to return home and take part in the elections.

If foreign interference were to cease, the interim government would be capable of implementing all the above by the election deadline, according to Stephanie Williams, the outgoing UN acting special envoy for Libya. Realistically, the 10-month long path that separates Libyans from the ballot box looks rather like a minefield to supporters of the vote.

Abdulhamid Dbeibeh delivers a speech during a meeting of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum [United Nations handout via AFP]

Precarious ceasefire

Restoring security to allow citizens’ participation in the war-ravaged country where armed groups and militias control vast areas of territory is the most difficult challenge.

Libyans have witnessed a precarious ceasefire since October last year, when military officers from the two main power contenders, the UN-recognised GNA in Tripoli and renegade military commander General Khalifa Haftar in the east, brokered an end to hostilities.

However, the two sides have exploited the relative calm to entrench their positions in central Libya along the Sirte-Jufra “red-line” and to rearm. Haftar’s Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF), supported by Russia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates, have been strengthening control over airbases in Sirte and in the southern region to prevent an advance of Tripoli’s militias further east.

Meanwhile, Tripoli’s GNA continues to receive assistance and supplies from its main ally, Turkey, and the outgoing PC has created a new security agency led by prominent armed groups under its control.

The two sides, therefore, have regrouped and resupplied seemingly getting ready for a resumption of hostilities. Thousands of foreign fighters remain in the country despite an exit deadline set by the ceasefire agreement that expired on January 23.

“Realistically, I don’t think we are beyond the military phase in Libya,” Mustafa Fetouri, a Libyan academic and journalist told Al Jazeera. “I think another violent phase is unfolding.”

Military talks and political dialogue

Despite the military build-up, the Joint Military Commission that brokered the ceasefire, dubbed the “5+5”, is considered unanimously as the most effective of the three negotiating tracks conducted so far, including economic and political talks.

The ceasefire has allowed a stalling political dialogue to gain momentum, with some productive meetings between political and regional factions within the LPDF taking place in recent months in Tunisia, Egypt and ultimately, Geneva.

Libya’s two rival factions signed a ‘permanent’ ceasefire agreement in October [File: Violaine Martin/United Nations via AFP]

With the ceasefire holding, members from the two rival parliaments, the Western High Council of State (HCS) and the Eastern House of Representatives (HoR), met last months and called for a national referendum to approve a new draft constitution ahead of December elections.

The draft constitution will determine the future state system, its founding principles and the relations of the three main branches of power – the legislative, executive and judicial. The constitutional referendum, whose date has yet to be announced, is intended to allow Libyans to discuss the principles of the constitutional draft and decide whether to accept or reject it.

“Libyans need to have an open debate about this draft proposal and accept it or reject it if need be,” I’timad al-Musallati, a member of the Drafting Committee, told Al Jazeera.

But while a public debate on the new constitution, although overdue, would be desirable, it may take time. In addition, the zeal of the two rival parliaments in support of the referendum after stalling the constitutional draft for almost four years has raised suspicion in different quarters.

“Elections are welcome but we must focus on the constitution,” Bachir al-Haouch, a member of the High Council of State, told reporters in November.

Some fear a constitutional referendum ahead of elections may be used as a diversionary manoeuvre to procrastinate the vote and perpetrate the status-quo.

“There is a group of spoilers both in Benghazi and Tripoli that do not want to loosen their grip on power or see change in Libya,” Karim Mezran, resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, told Al Jazeera.

“The constitutional process has been hijacked since its inception with the result that now we have a flawed draft constitution that nobody likes and a constitutional referendum that, if not approved, may stall indefinitely the political process.”

The draft constitution was approved in 2017 by the Constitutional Drafting Assembly (CDA), a 60-member body appointed by National Transitional Council after the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

The House of Representatives, Libya’s eastern parliament, rejected the CDA and stalled the constitutional draft until November 2018 when it passed a referendum law.

The constitutional draft

The constitution provides for a presidential form of government in which the president’s powers are wide and decentralisation is limited. This triggered the protests of minority groups and undermined the work of the CDA from its onset.

The Amazigh boycotted the CDA, while the Tabu and Tuareg left the working committee feeling they were underrepresented. The Gaddafi regime had branded Libya as a homogenous Arab Muslim state neglecting ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities. Now, these groups believe the constitutional draft betrayed their expectation and did not grant the level of autonomy they were hoping for in a future decentralised state.

In addition, the draft raised concerns about the state system and its democratic safeguards, with some jurists warning of the risk the future state may backslide into an oppressive regime.

“We observed that some articles of the draft constitution clashed with provisions of the international law in terms of human rights, minority rights, as well as the future state system, but most of our remarks haven’t been acknowledged,” Vito Todeschini, a jurist with the International Jurists Commissions, told Al Jazeera.

The draft presents other significant loopholes, said Todeschini. For example, while the army and police would be subject to the civilian authority, there is no mention of the prerogatives of the supreme commander. There is also no mention of the intelligence services, with the risk that security agencies may sprout up without any civilian oversight.

While the constitution calls for the establishment of a High Judicial Council and a constitutional court as the highest jurisdictions on constitutional issues, no mention is made on their composition or appointment mechanism. This vacuum leaves the judicial framework vulnerable to be exploited by political groups in the future.

The drafters, however, say the constitutional draft meets the demands of Libyans for a return to presidentialism, after years of protracted civil war and political stagnation blamed in part on the ineptitude of some members of Parliament.

“This constitution is a good starting point and the best possible synthesis of the expectations of Libyans from across the country,” said al-Musallati.

“There cannot be elections without a constitution in place, or else any future system of government will be considered illegitimate.”

Al-Musallati accused the political factions of obstructing the constitutional draft over the years for fear of an overhaul of the existing power centres as envisaged by the new constitution. But she insisted Libyans should not go to elections without it. “If rejected, it will have to go back to the CDA and we will have to redraft it until it meets the people’s expectations.”

But the process may take time and questions remain over the necessity of pegging December elections to the referendum’s approval.

It remains unclear to what extent Libya’s key political forces will support the draft. There is a possibility they may encourage Libyans to vote against it, or they may simply refuse to comply with its provisions and delay elections indeterminately.

“I don’t think the country can go to election in this context,” said Fetouri. “But Libyans are fed up and they may just pass the referendum hoping it will contribute to ending their misery. Although public opinion seems to be against this draft constitution.”

But Libyans may escape the risk of having a faulty constitution in place by simply following the example of their Tunisian neighbours, said Mezran.

In the aftermath of the 2011 revolution, Tunisians in voted a Constituent Assembly of 217 members who produced a constitution considered one of the most liberal in the Arab world.

“Libyans could vote a new parliament to function as a Constitutional Assembly and produce a constitution that would be accepted nationwide because it is an expression of the people’s demands,” said Mezran.

On Tuesday, members of the two Houses and the High National Elections Commission (HNEC) will meet again to discuss the threshold for the upcoming referendum and maybe set a date. Meanwhile, February 19 is the deadline for the concerned institutions to come forward with the constitutional basis for the holding of elections, an event far from granted.

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Iran and world powers hint at talks over nuclear deal | Nuclear Energy News



Tehran, Iran – Unofficial talks between Iran and world powers that signed an ailing 2015 nuclear deal appear to be the only way forward as neither side seems willing to take the first step.

Iran says the United States, which in 2018 unilaterally abandoned the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), must first return to full compliance under the accord by lifting all economic sanctions it imposed.

President Joe Biden has said former US leader Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign has failed, but nevertheless insists Iran must first reverse steps to reduce its commitments under the deal in response to the sanctions.

This week, Iran said it is considering an offer by the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell to hold unofficial talks with the P4+1 – China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and Germany minus the US – that would also include the US as a “guest”.

Ali Vaez, director of the Iran Project at the International Crisis Group, said it is likely officials from Tehran and Washington would sit together at an informal meeting hosted by the EU in the coming weeks.

“There, they are likely to agree to an interim set of measures to buy more time for negotiating a timetable for a mutual return to full compliance with the JCPOA,” he told Al Jazeera.

The meeting was called in light of Iran’s latest move on Tuesday to stop voluntarily implementing the Additional Protocol – a document that gives the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) broad inspection authorities of Iranian nuclear sites.

In a statement after Iran stopped providing the United Nations’s nuclear watchdog with short-notice inspection capabilities, the three European signatories of the nuclear deal called the move “dangerous”.

“It will significantly constrain the IAEA’s access to sites and to safeguards-relevant information,” the E3 foreign ministers said. “It will also constrain the IAEA’s ability to monitor and verify Iran’s nuclear programme and nuclear-related activities.”

Three-month window

But an agreement Iran’s government reached with the IAEA on Sunday seems to have bought more time for diplomacy.

After IAEA General Director Rafael Grossi travelled to Tehran, the two sides agreed Iran would continue monitoring activities of its nuclear sites, but would not hand over the camera tapes.

The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran announced that if the US fails to lift sanctions on Iran within those three months, the data would be permanently deleted, leaving a gap in the IAEA’s monitoring of the country’s nuclear activities.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said earlier this week the US has imposed 1,600 sanctions on Iran, all of which need to be lifted to restore the nuclear deal.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also said this week Iran could boost its uranium enrichment to a purity of 60 percent from the current 20 percent if the country needs to, but stressed his nation does not seek nuclear weapons.

On Wednesday, Iran’s ambassador in Geneva told the UN-sponsored Conference on Disarmament it is up to the United States to make the first move.

“The onus is on the offending party to return, restart, and compensate for the damages as well as to reassure that they would not renege again,” Ambassador Esmaeil Baghaei Hamaneh said.

‘Increasing suspicions’

Vaez said the IAEA agreement “deferred a crisis that could have derailed diplomacy before it even had a chance of getting off the ground”.

Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council, said the time bought by the deal could open the way for all sides to negotiate – and implement – a road map back to JCPOA compliance.

She told Al Jazeera “it won’t be the end of the world but it won’t be good” if the nuclear deal signatories fail to come to an agreement in those three months.

“Iran will continue to take steps out of the JCPOA and to reduce cooperation with the IAEA, increasing suspicions that it is working on weapons,” Slavin said of the ramifications of a no-deal scenario.

“Iranians will continue to suffer from the impact of sanctions. Iranian politicians opposed to the deal and to any relaxation of tensions with the West will get stronger, and Iran will likely also be more difficult to deal with in Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, et cetera.”

Presidential elections loom

The fact that the June presidential elections in Iran are fast approaching only adds to the pressure to find a solution to the nuclear deal dilemma.

President Hassan Rouhani, who won his office by promising to engage with the West and improve Iran’s economy by ending isolation, is nearing the end of his second term.

It is widely believed a conservative or a hardliner – who could come from a military background – will emerge victorious in the elections.

Iran’s last large-scale elections came in February 2020 when the lowest voter turnout in the f40-year history of the country gave way to the current hardline parliament whose December law obliged Rouhani’s administration to boost uranium enrichment and restrict IAEA inspections.

“It is obviously much easier to negotiate a return to the nuclear deal with individuals who negotiated it in the first place than to work with a new cast of characters – or old ones from the Ahmadinejad days – who are much more antagonistic to the United States,” Slavin said in reference to former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Vaez concurred saying: “It will be a risky gambit for Washington not to restore the JCPOA fully before its key proponents in Iran leave power.”

But he added it would be unlikely for the next Iranian president to undo what has been state policy as the supreme leader is always the ultimate decision-maker.

Meantime, however, Rouhani’s opponents are likely to mount more opposition to his dealings with international stakeholders.

On Monday, angry legislators said Iran’s agreement with the IAEA is “illegal” and called for the president to be handed over to the judiciary for legal punishment.

The heated confrontation even prompted the supreme leader to intervene, saying they must resolve their differences so a single voice would be communicated from Iran to the world.

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