Debates on constitutional draft rekindle tensions between HNEC, HCS and HOR
On 6 December, head of the High National Elections Commission (HNEC) Emad Sayeh announced that the tentative date to hold the constitutional referendum in the country would be sometime around the end of February 2019. The referendum would be held based on the controversial draft law issued by the House of Representatives (HoR) last week, which requires a minimum of 51% of yes votes in each of Libya’s three regions to pass the constitution. Sayeh said the HNEC would only fulfil its mandate if security and financial criteria were met, with security being the main hurdle. He also lamented the division between the HoR and High Council of State (HCS), saying no support was received by the HNEC from these institutions. Sayeh’s announcement effectively ended the recent honeymoon between the HoR and HCS, which threatened to unseat Fayez al-Serraj and form a new presidential council without him. In a statement on 7 December, HCS head Khalid al-Mishri dismissed Sayeh’s announcement, saying that consensus had still not been achieved on the constitutional referendum draft law between the houses, and that HNEC’s announcement only sets up the constitution for a ‘No’ vote.
The constitutional draft seems to be heading towards a ‘no’ vote if the referendum goes ahead, despite the rapprochement and unification process currently underway between the GNA and the LNA, due to issues with the draft and current socio-political dynamics. The impact of the referendum timing, after the planned UN-led National Reconciliation Conference scheduled for next month, is uncertain. A no vote would likely entrench whatever agreement is reached in the conference in January, or would pave the way for a delayed, but stronger national conference sometime in March. A yes vote could help speed up the process towards elections, but will complicate and undermine any agreements reached in the national conference. In all scenarios, however, this event has already deepened divisions between the HoR and the HCS and may be a trigger for more political and military spoiler tactics by these institutions. Ultimately, the HoR and the HCS are required to ratify whatever comes out of the national conference. As a result, their increasing irrelevance could be a double-edged sword for Ghassan Salame and the UN roadmap, as although seen as a necessary step towards a unified Libya, neither is likely to sign their own death warrant.