Libyan election commission says has ‘zero’ budget for polls

Emad Al-Sayah, Chairman of Libya's High National Election Commission (HNEC), speaks during a news conference in Tripoli, Libya December 6, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 07 December 2018
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Libyan election commission says has ‘zero’ budget for polls

  • A 60-member panel drafted the constitution and submitted it to Parliament in August.
  • Al-Sayeh warned the referendum could be delayed if the election commission did not receive security guarantees and funds

TRIPOLI: Libya’s electoral commission has asked the government for $28.7 million, saying that without funding to boost its “zero” budget it cannot make plans to prepare for a vote on a new constitution and later elections.
Western powers and the UN hope Libya will hold a national election by June after a referendum on a constitutional framework to chart a way out of a conflict stemming from the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
A French plan, backed by the United Nations, had initially called for a presidential and parliamentary vote on Dec 10.
But weeks of fighting in the capital Tripoli between competing groups and almost no progress between the North African country’s two rival Parliaments made that impossible.
Now Emad Al-Sayah, chairman of the High National Elections Commission (HNEC), said on Thursday his group was unable to even plan for the constitutional vote due to a lack of funding.
“The budget of the commission is zero, it’s red,” he told reporters. “We have financial commitments of half a million (dinars).”
He said the commission had asked the Tripoli-based government to get 40 million dinars ($28.7 million) to start the process for a constitutional vote. It was not immediately possible to reach the internationally backed government, based in Tripoli, for comment.
Sayah said that from a technical point of view, such a constitutional referendum could have been held as early as February, if a budget had been allocated.
, but said technical equipment and ballot materials still needed to be imported.
So far there is no sign when any vote will be scheduled and details remain opaque.
A draft constitution has been drawn up to be put to a referendum, but it is not clear how that would work ahead of a national conference planned for early 2019 to discuss possible election protocol.
The internationally recognized Parliament, the House of Representatives, last week passed a law billed as first step for the constitutional vote and elections, but the details remain unclear. The UN had previously accused the assembly of obstructing the vote.
Libya has two governments, the UN-backed one in Tripoli and a rival version in the east allied to Khalifa Haftar, whose forces control the east.
Sayah also said better security was needed to conduct polls.
In May, Daesh suicide attackers stormed the commission’s Tripoli headquarters, killing at least 12 of its staff, and setting the building on fire.


Egypt begins vote on extending El-Sisi’s rule

Updated 20 April 2019
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Egypt begins vote on extending El-Sisi’s rule

  • El-Sisi cast his ballot at a polling station in the eastern suburb of Heliopolis in the Egyptian capital
  • Supporters argue that El-Sisi has stabilized Egypt and needs more time to complete crucial economic reforms.

CAIRO: Voting began on Saturday in Egypt in a referendum on proposed constitutional amendments that would extend President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi's rule.
El-Sisi cast his ballot at a polling station in the eastern suburb of Heliopolis in the Egyptian capital, state television showed.  

Supporters argue that El-Sisi has stabilized Egypt and needs more time to complete crucial economic reforms. Critics say they fear that the changes will further limit the space for dissent. 

An amendment to Article 140 of the constitution extends the presidential term to six years from four. An outright bar on any president serving more than two terms will change to a bar on serving more than two consecutive terms. An additional clause extends El-Sisi’s current term to six years from four currently since his election victory in 2018, and allows him to run for a third term in 2024. 

The amendments provide for the creation of a second parliamentary chamber known as the Council of Senators. It would have 180 members, two-thirds elected by the public and the rest appointed by the president. 

Article 200 of the constitution on the role of the military is expanded, giving the military a duty to protect “the constitution and democracy and the fundamental makeup of the country and its civil nature, the gains of the people and the rights and freedoms of individuals.” 

The amendments also create the post of vice president, allowing the president to appoint one or more deputies. 

They task the president with choosing head judges and the public prosecutor from a pool of senior candidates pre-selected by the judiciary. They further create a quota setting women’s representation in Parliament at a minimum of 25 percent. 

Who is behind the amendments? 

The amendments were initiated by the pro-government parliamentary bloc known as Support Egypt, and according to the Parliament’s legislative committee report, 155 members submitted the initial proposal. On Tuesday, 531 out of 596 members of Egypt’s overwhelmingly pro-El-Sisi Parliament voted in favor of the changes. Parliament speaker Ali Abdelaal has said that the amendments were a parliamentary initiative and that El-Sisi may not even choose to run again. 

“This suggestion came from the representatives of the people in gratitude for the historic role played by the president,” the legislative committee report said. 

Proponents of the changes have argued that El-Sisi, a former army chief, came to power with a huge mandate after mass protests in 2013 against President Mohamed Mursi’s one year in office. With macro economic indicators improving, they say El-Sisi deserves more time to build on reforms. The legislative committee report said religious, academic, political and civil society representatives expressed strong overall support for the changes during a consultation period ahead of the Parliament’s final vote. 

What do opponents say? 

The legislative committee acknowledged some opposition to the amendments from members of the judiciary and two non-governmental organizations. Just 22 members of Parliament voted against the amendments. They and other opposition figures say a central promise of the 2011 uprising that toppled then-President Hosni Mubarak is at risk: The principle of the peaceful transfer of power. They say the amendments were driven by El-Sisi and his close entourage, and by the powerful security and intelligence agencies. They also fear the changes thrust the armed forces into political life by formally assigning them a role in protecting democracy. 

“If you want your children and grandchildren to live in a modern democratic country with peaceful transition of power, I do not think this is the amendment we would want,” one of the opposition MPs, Haitham El-Hariri, told Parliament this week. 

While Abdelaal said a wide range of views were given a hearing during the consultation period, opposition figures and activists say genuine debate on the amendments was impossible due to a far-reaching crackdown on political dissent. 

Egyptian officials deny silencing dissent and say that Egyptians from all walks of life were given a chance to debate the amendments, adding that all views were factored into the final proposals. Abdelaal also denied that the amendments prescribe a new role for the military. 

He told Parliament that the armed forces are the backbone of the country and Egypt is “neither a military or a religious state,” state-run Al Ahram newspaper said. “This is part of (El-Sisi’s) consolidation of power,” said Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations, an independent US-based think-tank. “From an institutional perspective, Egypt’s counter-revolution is largely complete.” 

What happens next?

Egyptians abroad start voting on Friday, while the vote inside Egypt begins on Saturday, meaning Egyptians have less than four days to read and discuss the changes following their approval by Parliament. Election commissioner Lasheen Ibrahim, who announced the dates of the referendum on Wednesday, did not say when the votes will be counted or the results announced. More than a week before Parliament’s final vote, posters and banners sprung up across the capital Cairo urging people to “do the right thing” and participate, some calling directly for a “yes” vote.