July 22, 2013 – The General National Congress’s (GNC) recent passing of the electoral law for the Constitutional Assembly is a serious setback to progress in achieving an inclusive constitutional drafting process in Libya. Most significantly, the new law allocates only six seats for women, which forebodes they will be drastically underrepresented in the new Constitutional Assembly.
The decision represents an obvious setback for gender equality in post-revolution Libya. “Female members of the GNC were put under immense pressure to accept the 10 percent quota,” according to Najah Salouh, a GNC member from El Beida.
Last Tuesday, the GNC voted on the remaining articles of the law, several of which have stirred heated debate over the last month. These articles focused on: 1) the number of seats allocated to women and cultural minorities; 2) the electoral system; and 3) the distribution of electoral districts.
One hundred and fifty-two members of Congress voted in favor of the article stipulating a quota of only six seats for the cultural components and six seats for women. One hundred and twenty-four members of Congress voted in favor of the individual voting system.
Equally polemic was the voted removal of the article preventing members of parties from being nominated. As a result of this removal, political parties can have individuals run on their behalf and represent them in the Constitutional Assembly. This creates worrying ambiguity where voters will struggle to know whether they are voting for an individual candidate or for the candidate’s affiliated party.
Another key issue that has stirred controversy is the poor representation of cultural minorities. They were only allocated six seats with no voting mechanism to ensure a consensus process with regard to their cultural and linguistic rights. The decision has prompted Amazigh GNC members to resign and the Supreme Amazigh Congress to call for a boycott of the elections and the new constitution.
Failure to ensure the inclusivity of women and cultural minorities obliges the Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace (LWPP) to highlight the deep and imminent threat to Libya’s democratic transitional process. The Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace’s major concerns centre around five points:
1) Underrepresentation of women; 2) the lack of a mechanism in the electoral law to ensure the rights of cultural minorities (Amazigh- Tawareg- Tabu)) in the drafting process; 3) the risk of incentivizing political formation along tribal lines by restricting the electoral process to the individual vote system only; 4) the manner in which the simple majority vote system influences the results of women and all minorities; and 5) the risk of jeopardizing the democratic process underpinning constitutional drafting by allowing armed revolutionaries to participate in the Constitutional Assembly (there is a precedent already in the GNC and it has been highlighted in the resignation speech of the head of the GNC).
“The Constitutional Assembly electoral law demonstrates an exclusionist mindset,” said Zahra’ Langhi, Co-founder of the LWPP. “This law is against the spirit of the 17th Feb revolution in which women and men fought together to foster equality, justice and democracy.” The absence of guarantees of the inclusion of women and cultural minorities in the assembly threatens to replicate tribal and patriarchal structures, and in turn disempower women and cultural minorities who have been marginalized. Ms. Langhi stressed, “Democracy demands that all voices are represented—those of the majority as well of the minority.”
The Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace, along with a coalition of Libyan civil society organizations, coordinated a national campaign to lobby for a more inclusive electoral law. In June 2013, this led to the launch of a two-day consultation organized in partnership with Karama. A corresponding campaign “Together Men and Women We Will Write Our Constitution” has also been launched.
Together, the LWPP and its partners have proposed a mixed electoral system that combines the individual system and the closed “zipper list” system to ensure inclusive representation in the Constitutional Assembly. The proposal guarantees 24 women within the 60-member body of the Constitutional Assembly. Under this proposal, 48 seats of the assembly will be allocated to party lists, with alternating male and female candidates. The proposal also guarantees diverse representation of different groups of cultural minorities, youth, and individuals with disabilities.
The Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace was formed in partnership with Karama by leading women activists in October 2011 to serve as a networking movement of civil society groups throughout Libya. It convenes trainings, organizes advocacy activities, and serves as an information clearing house for women and youth activists and their allies throughout Libya. It comprises members from all regions of Libya, as well as nationals and members of the Libyan diaspora. For more information on the LWPP, please visit visit Facebook and its website.