Libyans rebels plot route to democracy

AFP , Wednesday 17 Aug 2011

A purposed constitutional declaration document prepared by Libya's National Transitional Council leaders as a road map for democracy that would open up the possibility for the first free elections since 1964

Abdel Jalil, chairman of Libya's rebel National Transitional Council, gives a news conference in Benghazi (Reuters)

Libya's rebel leaders have set out a fresh plan to transform the country from autocracy to a fully blown democracy, in a roadmap that could help define the country for decades to come.

The draft 14-page "constitutional declaration," obtained by AFP on Wednesday, plots a path -- via the first elections seen in Libya since 1964 -- to a new constitution and a multiparty democracy inspired by Islamic law.

"Libya is a democratic and independent state," the document states, "the people are the source of authority, Tripoli is the capital, Islam is the religion and Islamic sharia is the principal source of legislation."

In 37 articles the text, drafted by the rebels' de-facto government -- the National Transitional Council -- sets out key milestones along a roughly two-year path to democracy including an assembly election, a constitutional referendum and a general election.

Dated August 8, leaked details of the Arabic text have already drawn modest criticism in Benghazi, with some questioning whether the timeframe is too short, risking instability, or so long it will undermine the legitimacy of the revolution.

According to Richard Dalton, a former British ambassador to Tripoli and Tehran, the document is an admirable start.

"It is important, not only to anchor different groups within the NTC to something, but also to convince the international community about the NTC, which has been questioned after the (Abdel) Fatah Yunis murder."

"It is also important to put across to the people in Tripoli that they are not just a bunch of cowboys from the east," he added.

But the plan also entails risks.

During Iraq's transition a series of elections and procedural votes served to magnify divisions within the country.

On Tuesday the chairman of the National Transitional Council insisted that Libyans would rise to the challenge.

"It is true that Libyans lack the culture of elections," he said. "We can safely say that people under 60 have not seen an election. But Libyans... will not lack the ability to choose who represents them in the National Congress."

Still, in the tumult of post-Gaddafi Libya the plan is likely to be transformed, according to Dalton.

"It is rather like a military campaign: you have to revise your plan after the first shot is fired."

As it stands the plan would see an interim government formed within 30 days of Gaddafi’s ouster.

Within eight months elections would be held to select a 200 member transitional national assembly, which would become the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people and would draft a constitution.

Thirty days after a constitution is agreed by the members of assembly it would be put to a referendum, needing the support of two thirds of Libyan voters to become law.

The assembly would also be tasked with drafting a law that would govern general elections.

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