Under pressure from armed militias, Libya’s parliament passed a sweeping law on Sunday that bans anyone who served as a senior official under Muammar Qadhafi during his 42 year-long rule from working in government.
The Political Isolation Law could lead to the dismissal of many current leaders, some of whom had defected to the rebel side during the country’s 2011 civil war or had been elected to office since Qadhafi’s ouster and killing. The move is also likely to further stall the country’s already rocky transition to democracy by ousting elected lawmakers.
It injects a new dose of uncertainty into Libyan politics during a still-fragile transition. Liberals say it will give a boost to Islamists, who performed poorly in recent elections compared to their counterparts in other Arab states, although Islamists said they could also be affected by the ban.
The law was partially driven by the unpopularity of Libya’s current crop of politicians among many of the still-powerful former rebels who toppled Qadhafi, and others who say little has improved since. Backers of the law say it is necessary to complete the revolution.
But critics say that the law was passed at gunpoint, as militias have surrounded several government buildings in Tripoli for the past several days barring officials from work. Their vehicles mounted with rocket-propelled grenades kept watch on the street during the vote.
Most of the militias have roots in the rebel groups that fought Qadhafi, but they have mushroomed in the two years since his fall. Many of the armed groups have been accused of rights abuses, but the government continues to rely on them to keep order in the absence of a strong police or military. Many militiamen say they mostly want jobs and steady pay.
The General National Congress, Libya’s elected parliament, voted overwhelmingly in favour of the law. Out of 200 lawmakers, 169 attended the vote.
Deputy head of parliament Juma Attiga, who oversaw the vote, told the TV station Libya Ahrar that militias had pressured parliament to vote in favour of the law, but that he had planned to vote yes in any case. He may be affected since he served as head of a governmental rights group under Qadhafi.
Legislators told The Associated Press that the law states that parliamentarians who lose their post will be replaced by either the next name on the party list or by the independent candidate who came in second in a district. This could benefit many Islamists, who trailed in the elections and came in second in many districts.
Lawmaker Tawfiq al—Shaybi, who is with Jibril’s bloc, told Libya Ahrar TV that the country’s Muslim Brotherhood party was pushing the law “in favour of themselves rather that in favour of what is best for the country.”
Brotherhood lawmaker Majda al-Falah denied that Islamists passed the law to target their opponents.
“The proof of this is that 164 (parliamentarians) voted for the law and not all are Islamists, though among them are members of our party,” she told The Associated Press. The law could also affect some Brotherhood figures who entered into reconciliation talks with Qadhafi’s regime years ago, she said.
Thousands of Libyans in Tripoli celebrated in the streets after the law was passed, waving the country’s new flag that was the symbol of rebel fighters during the devastating eight-month civil war. Before the vote, protesters had placed images of people killed in the war on empty coffins laid outside parliament, a message that Qadhafi-era officials were not welcome in government.
The law may also affect a number of ambassadors, heads of governmental agencies, professors and media professionals on government payrolls.
Security officials such as the military’s chief of staff Maj. Gen. Youssef Mangoush, once a special forces commander under Qadhafi, may also come under the law. He quit his post 10 years before the uprising began and sided with rebels during the war.
Parliamentary spokesman Omar Humeidan said after a live broadcast of the vote that a committee will be formed to see how the new law will be implemented.
The committee will be comprised of judges and rights activists already serving on an “integrity commission” that vetted ministers for Qadhafi—era ties. That body will be dissolved. A new clause, though, requires members of the new vetting body to be at least 35 years old and have a degree in Islamic law, he said.