In the literal battle between two rival legislatures — a Western Libyan “Congress” controlled by the Islamist parties elected previously to lead the transition and an Eastern Libyan “Parliament” controlled by anti-Islamist parties elected in this year’s elections — the country’s Supreme Court has poured gasoline on the fire by invalidating the parliament on an apparent technicality and without explanation…or any followup plan for what should happen now that the only currently elected and internationally-accepted legislative body in Libya is no longer constitutional.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday on the ruling:
Libya’s Supreme Court on Thursday ruled the nation’s isolated but internationally recognized parliament is unconstitutional, a decision that threatens to plunge the oil-rich nation into further political chaos.
The defiant statement [from Tobruk parliamentarians, rejecting the ruling] is likely to heighten tensions in Libya, where the Supreme Court has been seen as one of the few remaining institutions that hadn’t fallen under direct political influence.
The Supreme Court sits in Tripoli and supporters of the Tobruk parliament said it has operated under intimidation by a coalition of armed groups there known as Operation Dawn, raising questions about its ability to rule independently. The court hasn’t responded to any of the accusations.
Late Thursday, the reasoning behind the decision and whether it would result in the dissolution of the parliament, remained unclear. The judges who issued the ruling didn’t offer a public explanation and couldn’t be reached for comment.
The case stemmed from a lawsuit brought by 30 elected members of the House of Representatives who have Islamist leanings and have boycotted the sessions. They argued the legislature is in violation of the constitution because it doesn’t convene in Tripoli or Benghazi.
This ruling just seems like it’s needlessly inflammatory and based on an unreasonable geographic technicality — the emergency evacuation of the parliament to Tobruk from the captured capital of Tripoli and avoidance of the besieged “second city” of Benghazi — a point which they unhelpfully didn’t even confirm or deny.
I predict the international community will ultimately ignore the decision, on the grounds that the parliament is still the (more or less) legitimately elected representative of the people, regardless of its location or any constitutional technicalities about its location. But it will hand a crucial legal victory to all opponents of the parliament and supporters (domestically or abroad) of that opposing camp and its rival government.
Either way, it can only expand the casus belli justifying armed “resolution” to the political crisis, because when neither side wields legal legitimacy for assuming and retaining power, only the use of force remains.