Libya to hold early elections as interim assembly backtracks

All factions within Genreal National Congress agree to hold elections for new body following protests over term extension.

A protester holds up a card with the words “No extension” on it during a demonstration against the General National Congress in the Libyan city of Benghazi on February 14, 2014. Esam Omran Al Fetori / Reuters
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TRIPOLI // Libya’s interim parliament has reached consensus on holding early elections, yielding to popular pressure after it had extended its mandate that ended on February 7, deputies said on Sunday.

The agreement comes as the country prepares to mark three years on Monday since the start of the revolution that overthrew the long-time dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

“The political blocs are unanimous on the holding of early elections” for new transitional authorities, said Abdullah Al Gmati, a member of the General National Congress (GNC), Libya’s highest political authority.

He belongs to a 15-strong bloc of independent lawmakers in the GNC.

Discussions are still under way on institutions that might replace the GNC: a new congress, or a parliament and a president.

The second strongest bloc in the GNC, the Party of Justice and Construction (PJC), which is the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya, had on Thursday called for early elections.

The GNC’s 200 members were elected in July 2012 for a term of 18 months and tasked with leading the country’s transition after the 2011 uprising.

But earlier this month, it decided to extend its mandate until December despite opposition from Libyans critical of its inability to halt the country’s slide into chaos.

Thousands of Libyans took to the streets for the second consecutive week on Friday to protest against the decision.

The demonstration came ahead of Monday’s third anniversary of the start of the February 17 revolution, when angry residents of the eastern city of Benghazi took to the streets to protest against Qaddafi’s four-decade rule.

The GNC last week adopted a new roadmap that would see a general election held by the end of the year if a constitutional body due to be chosen on February 20 adopts a new constitution within four months of its election.

The commission would decide on key issues in a new constitution, including the system of government, the status of minorities and the role of Islamic law.

But if, within 60 days, it decided it cannot complete the job, it would call for immediate presidential and legislative elections for a fresh period of 18 months.

After first accepting this roadmap, the PJC has now called for going “straight to elections”.

Their rivals, the liberal Alliance of National Forces (NFA), opposed extending the GNC mandate from the outset.

GNC member Suad Soltan of the NFA said on Sunday that her bloc has been demanding the assembly’s dissolution for months.

Confirming that an agreement in principle had been reached on holding early elections, Ms Soltan said a vote on the move could be held later in the day.

* Agence France-Presse