Libya’s competing political domains haggle over details while the possibility of renewed civil war looms should a fresh national accord fail to materialise, writes Kamel Abdallah
Friday,20 October, 2017
اقرأ باللغة العربية
The Joint Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) Drafting Committee reconvened in Tunisia Sunday for its second meeting in order to discuss limited amendments to the LPA signed in Skhirat, Morocco, on 17 December 2015. Representatives from the Tobruk-based House of Representatives and the Tripoli-based High Council of State continue to differ over a number of issues, most notably the authorities of the two main executive bodies, the mechanisms for choosing nominees for executive posts and the military leadership that is currently bifurcated between Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar in the east and the Presidency Council under Fayez Al-Sarraj in the west. Nevertheless, Ghassan Salamé, the UN special envoy and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), hopes that this will be the last round of talks needed to resolve the question of amendments to the LPA, enabling the concerned parties to move on to the second phase of the reconciliation plan.
The UNSMIL spokesman stated that the participants in Sunday’s meeting in Tunis discussed the mechanisms for choosing the chairman and members of the Presidency Council and the prime minister, as well as the jurisdictions and powers of the two executive bodies (the Presidency Council and the cabinet). According to Libyan sources, the Drafting Committee’s discussions on the selection mechanisms for the executive posts seem to be heading towards a consensus over a list system, whereby each list would contain three candidates from the country’s three main regions (Tripoli, Cyrenaica and Fezzan) plus a fourth candidate for the premiership. The lists would be put to a vote, after the candidates, themselves, had received sufficient declarations of support from the House of Representatives and High Council of State.
The Libyan Al-Bawaba news site cited Ismail Sherif, a member of the House of Representatives national dialogue committee, which is representing the house in the talks in Tunisia, as saying that this mechanism has a number of problems. One is the percentage of approvals required from each of the two bodies for prospective candidates. The House of Representatives delegation has proposed 30 per cent and 10 per cent of the total members of the House of Representatives and the Council of State, respectively. In other words, he said, all candidates on the list must be approved by all the regions. He added that, if this mechanism is approved, the two sides will create a committee to screen candidates. The list will be submitted to the House of Representatives for approval by a simple majority (51 per cent) in at most two rounds of voting, on the condition that the house approves the constitutional amendment before receiving the lists so as to avert previous mistakes. He added that the proposed lists would have to be submitted by no later than a week after the amendment was approved.
House of Representatives and High Council of State delegations arrived in the Tunisian capital Friday, carrying with them their respective assembly’s visions for the limited amendments to be introduced to the LPA to be discussed in the second round of meetings of the Joint Drafting Committee. These meetings form the first phase of the Action Plan for the Sake of Libya unveiled by Salamé during the high-level meeting on Libya at the UN headquarters in New York City on 20 September. The first round was held 26 September at the UNSMIL headquarters in Tunisia. The members of this committee were selected from the Libyan National Dialogue teams that represented the House of Representatives and the High Council of State in the UN-sponsored dialogue process that culminated in the Skhirat Accord in December 2015.
The UN-sponsored Action Plan, which seeks to revive the stalled political process in Libya, consists of three phases, the first being amendments to the LPA. The second phase calls for a broad-based National Conference to elect the executives in the three-member Presidency Council and the Government of National Accord (GNA) and to reach a consensus over outstanding points of dispute in the draft constitution. The third phase is to prepare for and hold legislative and presidential elections within no more than a year after the Action Plan commenced.
The Joint LPA Drafting Committee’s second round of meetings in Tunis took place amidst tight secrecy for fear that leaks might disrupt or undermine the negotiations over proposed formulas for the amendments. Observers had anticipated that this round would be tense as it followed a week in which the two delegations consulted with their respective parliamentary bases in Tobruk and Tripoli over the results of the first meeting that dealt with, among other things, the composition of the Presidency Council. Therefore, in contrast to the general spirit of consensus that prevailed in the first round, this round will be characterised by the divergent views of the two sides and heated debates over the details of the wording and substance of the proposed amendments.
One of the LPA provisions up for amendment is Annex 1 that lists the names of the members of the Presidency Council which, under the original agreement, consisted of nine members. Both sides have agreed to reduce the size of this body to three members (a president and two vice presidents) and to separate it from the Government of National Accord (GNA), thereby creating a separate premiership and expanding the executive as a whole. Article 8 of the Additional Provisions to the LPA is also slated for amendment. This article calls for the transfer of the authority to make appointments to posts related to sovereign powers to the Presidency Council. Although both sides have stated that the article must be amended rather than abolished, there remains some uncertainty on their actual positions in this regard.
During the discussions in Tobruk and in Tripoli during the week before the second round, Abdul-Salam Nassiyeh, head of the delegation from the House of Representatives, and Moussa Faraj, head of the High Council of State delegation, presented to their respective assemblies the results of the first round of the Joint LPA Drafting Committee meetings. In his meetings in Tobruk, Nassiyeh submitted three proposals regarding the amendment of Article 8 of the Additional Provisions to the LPA. One was that the house would not object if the Presidency Council retained the power to make appointments to sovereign related posts and to the premiership on the condition that the appointments would be subject to confirmation by the house. Also in the course of those meetings, some members of the house submitted several proposals regarding the election of the members of the Presidency Council. One was the list system described above. A second proposed a kind of consultative process in which each of the three regions (Tripoli, Cyrenaica and Fezzan) submitted a candidate of its own who would be put to a vote in the house. The third was that the House elect the president and one vice president and that the High Council of State elect the second vice president.
The House of Representatives also wants to alter the composition of the High Council of State so that it would comprise members elected to that body on 7 July 2012 at the time that body was known as the General National Congress (GNC). It was stressed that this should include the 94 members of the National Forces Alliance bloc in the GNC. These have supported the House of Representatives since it was elected in the national polls on 25 June 2014. The house also insists that the High Council of State should not be accorded any legislative powers and be retained as a purely consultative council.
Speaker of the House of Representatives Aqila Saleh has made it clear that he wants to be president of the Presidency Council or, at the very least, first vice president if the relevant parties agreed to include him in that body. The proposals regarding the amendment to Article 8 of the Additional Provisions seem to bear this out, even though on 25 January this year the House of Representatives had indicated that it would approve the LPA if this article were abolished, a demand that it has frequently reiterated since. It appears that Saleh has opted for a new tack which involves using the amendment to secure himself a role in one of the key executive posts.
The High Council of State, for its part, insists on retaining and expanding its legislative authorities and on reviewing all acts and laws passed by the house since 4 August 2014. It also wants to elect a new speaker of the house and it rejects the proposal that the house confirm Presidency Council appointees. Lastly, it maintains that the commanders of the military establishment should be chosen through a consensual process.
The eastern-based general commander of the Libyan National Army Khalifa Haftar has voiced his scepticism regarding the prospects of the success of the UN-sponsored Action Plan for Libya. In a speech to a gathering of his officers in Benghazi, he said that the current dialogue is the only solution to resolving Libya’s problems. However, he cautioned that if dialogue failed to produce a political solution the door would be open to the people to determine their fate. His remarks were an allusion to an earlier statement in which he vowed to give politicians six months in order to solve the Libyan crisis. The remarks rekindled fears of a renewed outbreak in the civil war should the UN-sponsored dialogue process, which began three years ago, break down again.