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Libya approves constitutional changes in move towards elections

Libya’s Supreme Council of State on Thursday voted in favor of a constitutional amendment intended to be the basis for elections, but experts say the changes do not resolve disagreements that stand in the way of a long-delayed national vote.

Earlier this week, a United Nations special envoy to Libya took charge of a stalled political process to allow elections seen as the path to resolving years of conflict.

Libya has been in a political stalemate since late 2021, when scheduled elections were canceled over rule disputes and the eastern-based parliament, the House of Representatives, withdrew support for the UN-brokered caretaker government.

The interim government was a move to unify Libya’s two rival governments: the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli and the House of Representatives in the eastern city of Tobruk. But the caretaker government has since split, complicating the political process in the North African country.

Since then, peace efforts have focused on getting the House of Representatives and the Supreme Council of State, an advisory body made up of ex-GNA members in the capital Tripoli, to agree on a constitutional basis for elections and voting rules.

Major political changes

Thursday’s vote approved a constitutional amendment released last month by the House of Representatives that was presented as a step toward holding elections.

Foreign powers have long indicated that major political changes would require the approval of both the House of Representatives and the Supreme Council of State under a 2015 agreement that was intended to establish a brief transitional period that would ultimately resolve the conflict.

On Monday, UN envoy Abdoulaye Bathily cited the 2015 agreement to say he was setting up a steering committee of key Libyan figures to approve a time-bound roadmap to elections.

“The political process is still ongoing and does not meet the aspirations of the Libyans, who want to elect their leaders and revive their political institutions,” Bathily said last week.

“In short, the Libyans are impatient,” he stressed, noting that they are widely questioning the will and desire of political actors to hold inclusive and transparent elections in 2023 as planned.

In statements made to both the House of Representatives, which was elected in 2014, and the Supreme Council of State, which emerged from a chamber elected in 2012, he said that “most institutions lost their legitimacy years ago.”

Before it was approved, Bathily also described the amendment as “controversial within the Libyan political class and the general citizenry”, noting that it did not address contentious issues such as candidate eligibility or create a clear timetable for elections.

Skeptical of political leaders

Many Libyans have become skeptical that their political leaders are negotiating in good faith, saying their true aim is to delay elections that could cost them power and privileges.

Emadeddin Badi, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said that “the latest ‘sessions’ held to pass a 13th constitutional amendment was a poorly orchestrated effort by Aguila (Libya’s parliamentary speaker) and Mishri (head of the Libyan Supreme Council of State) to maintain relevance, remain custodians of the political process and pretend to make progress towards elections.”

He clarified that the amendment will have no practical impact on affairs in Libya.

“Even the UN has finally become irked by the HoR and HSC (House of Representatives and Supreme Council of State) conspiring to jointly postpone elections indefinitely to maintain their grip on power,” Badi said.

“This was made clear by Bathily recently, including in his speech to the Security Council announcing an initiative that will bypass these illegitimate bodies,” he added.

Tim Eaton of Chatham House, a London-based think tank, said the amendment seemed designed to make it more difficult to sideline the two chambers.

“Every time it seems that the House of Representatives and the Supreme Council of State are going to lose control of the process, there is a ‘breakthrough’,” he said.

The latter amendment seemed to create new labyrinthine processes that would only later activate subsequent processes, he added, calling it “process for process’s sake.”