After months of political deadlock among the key parties of Libya's interim General National Congress (GNC), its members on Feb. 4 approved a new plan for electing a constitution-drafting committee and setting deadlines and election dates, including a nationwide vote later this week. But can the temporary parliament and interim Prime Minister Ali Zeidan control the country's chaos enough to advance the transition in Libya?

Ali Zeidan. Photo by Jean-Marc Ferré; UN Geneva

The main provisions of the revised "roadmap" include:

  • Extending the mandate of the GNC beyond Feb. 7, when it was due to expire and when the formal national dialogue on a new constitution was to have ended.

  • Conducting an election on Feb. 20 to establish a new special committee that would be tasked with drafting a constitution within 120 days.

  • Calling for early elections if the special committee of 60 members fails to show progress by May in finalizing a draft constitution.

  • Allowing the GNC to continue work until December (no date specified) if the constitution-drafting committee is making progress, possibly providing enough time to finalize a new charter before elections are called by the scheduled time period of year's end.

  • Giving the electoral commission the authority to set the election dates.

  • Omitting any reference to a plan for a no-confidence vote against Prime Minister Ali Zeidan.

In principle, this new development is a positive step toward addressing the long-standing tension among the various political parties in Libya – the National Forces Alliance, the Justice and Construction Party, and the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya.

The tension was fueled by the wave of instability sweeping Libya and compounded by the interim government's ineffective management and weak response to the crisis. A growing epidemic of organized crime, tribal clashes in the southern part of the country, and actions by armed groups to take control of oil and gas fields and facilities add to the mayhem.

Determining whether this next chapter in Libya could help accomplish a more peaceful transition raises a number of questions:

  • Will this political process be coupled with a comprehensive security plan to contain criminal activities and tribal clashes, such as in Tripoli or Benghazi or Sebha in the south?

    Some ad hoc measures have been taken, such as U.S. special operations forces assisting Libyan troops in fighting al-Qaida members in the South, particularly in Sebha. Zeidan also officially instructed the Libyan forces in early February to wrest three petroleum ports from the control of armed groups. Nevertheless, there has been no clear discussion on a strategy or plan for how to address Libya's overall security challenges.

  • The lack of reference in the GNC's amendment to a no-confidence vote might suggest a compromise after vocal calls in the parliament for Zeidan to resign and for early elections -- 99 GNC members expressed explicit dissatisfaction with Zeidan's management of the crisis but failed to gather the 122 votes they would have needed to win his resignation.

The new roadmap was adopted following a national shura, or conference, held in Zawiya on Feb. 1, calling for a new plan to address the crisis. The rationale of both the shura and the parliament-approved plan are similar, with differences mainly in the timeframe and in some specifics. The election to select the 60-member constitutional-drafting commission is scheduled for Feb. 20.

So the coming period might be considered a kind of "grace period" for Zeidan's government with a best-case scenario extending to December 2014 and a worst-case outcome forcing another major decision this coming May.

It will be important for Zeidan's government to show serious efforts toward achieving the results agreed upon in the roadmap. But the provisions are vague, leaving room for interpretation by political opponents amid the already-fraught divisions in Libya.

Darine El-Hage is a regional program officer in North Africa for USIP. Christina Murtaugh, a USIP senior program officer in the Rule of Law Center, contributed to this piece.

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