By Ronald Bruce St John, who has served on the Atlantic Council Working Group on Libya, and on the International Advisory Board of The Journal of Libyan Studies.
This article was originally published on the Atlantic Council’s MENASource blog on March 3, 2016, and is republished by Libya Business News with permission.
The Constitutional Drafting Assembly (CDA) was elected in February 2014 with a mandate to draft a constitution to replace the Draft Constitutional Charter for the Transitional Stage, released in August 2011. It took the CDA eight months to produce a first draft and another four months to produce a second, with the latter containing important changes to the first.
The second draft, released on February 3, 2016 sought to reconcile conflicting views and clashing interests, including the place of federalism, decentralization, women, ethnic minorities, and Shariya law in post-Qaddafi Libya. Whether it is a compromise document, acceptable to a majority of the Libyan people, or a compromised one that will be rejected by them remains to be seen.
The second draft does not return Libya to the federalist model in the 1951 constitution, as demanded by a vocal minority in the eastern and southern parts of the country. But to mollify them, it provides for multiple capitals and spreads key institutions throughout the country. Whereas the 1951 constitution provided for two capitals, Tripoli and Benghazi, the second draft identifies three: Tripoli as the political capital, Benghazi as the economic capital, and Sabha as the cultural capital.
The executive branch and higher judicial council will be headquartered in Tripoli, the legislative branch or shura council in Benghazi, and the constitutional court and the higher council for local governance in Sabha. With Tripoli 1,000 km from Benghazi and 800 km from Sabha and Sabha 1,160 km from Benghazi, the efficacy of spreading government bodies around the country is open to debate. A related approach in the 1951 constitution proved unwieldy, bureaucratic, and expensive and was replaced in 1963.