Smoke rises during heavy clashes between rival factions in Tripoli, Libya, May 27, 2017.
Smoke rises during heavy clashes between rival factions in Tripoli, Libya, May 27, 2017.

BENGHAZI, LIBYA - The head of Libya's committee tasked with writing the constitution called upon the eastern parliament Tuesday to hold a national referendum on a final draft, setting in motion a long-awaited step that it's hoped will end the current political stalemate and terminate power struggles among the country's rival parties.

More than three years overdue, the draft still leaves many of Libya's key questions unanswered. Experts warn that its lack of clarity will pave the way for another phase of instability, which has plagued the country since the 2011 uprising that ousted longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi.

The call by Nouh Abdel-Sayyed to "take all necessary measures to enable the Libyan people to practice their constitutional right" came after days of confusion over whether his committee is following proper legal procedures.

On Saturday, disgruntled protesters stormed the committee's session in the eastern town of Bayda, calling for a redo of their vote, which was in favor of putting the final draft up for a nationwide referendum. Opponents included secessionists who wanted greater say over the redistribution of resources in the oil-rich country and those in favor of the country's 1951 constitution, which would mean a return to the monarchy.

The 60-member committee was elected in a direct vote in 2014; it was scheduled to deliver a draft in 120 days. However, unrelenting conflicts forced delays.

Legal expert Sami al-Atrash said articles of the constitution look innocent enough on the surface, but "it's not a homogenous document and this is not an honest attempt to produce an inclusive constitution."

A look at the draft shows efforts to keep most of the articles as vague as possible to avoid conflicts among the country's rival parties. The draft made no mention of the national anthem or the flag, to avoid friction between those who backed the 2011 uprising against Gadhafi and those who continue to support him.

'Legislative trap'

"It was done in a way to just escape from the current situation and crisis," said al-Atrash, who warned this would, "postpone, rather than face, harsh realities."

He added that leaving the articles open to interpretation "could lead to a legislative trap."

The draft failed to live up to the aspirations of many easterners, who long complained of discrimination under Gadhafi. Eastern secessionists call for the return of autonomy to Cyrenaica, saying their lands are the major source of oil. However, for decades, Libya's centralized system has driven oil gains to the capital.

In Article 143, the draft states decentralization is the basis of governance. However, Article 148 defers the issues of local municipalities and their budgeting to future legislation. The draft also removed an earlier mention of the eastern city of Benghazi as the economic capital and seat of the central bank.

As for presidential elections, the draft places several restrictions on candidates; candidates with dual citizenship must revoke their non-Libyan nationality a year before registration for elections begins, and if married it must be to a Libyan national. The article risks isolating some of the most powerful Libyan politicians who under Gadhafi lived in exile and were granted non-Libyan nationalities or married non-Libyans.

The draft also deprived non-Arab minorities — like the Amazigh who make up between 5 and 10 percent of Libya's population — of having their language recognized alongside Arabic as a state language.

The push for the vote came less than a week after Libya's top rivals — the internationally recognized, designated prime minister, Fayez Serraj, and army chief Marshal Khalifa Hifter — met in Paris, where they shook hands on a cease-fire and agreed to work toward parliamentary and presidential elections as soon as possible.

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