TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Three Libyan ethnic minorities announced on Wednesday they would boycott an election of a committee to draft a new constitution, the first blow to a democratic process supposed to decide what political system the country will adopt.
Members of the Amazigh, Tibu and Tuareg communities denounced a law passed on Tuesday under which 60 people will be elected by popular vote to draft a charter, saying that such a constitutional committee would not be "fully representative".
The constitution will be the first since the 2011 ouster of Muammar Gaddafi, who often played off one tribe or clan against the other during his 42-year iron-fisted rule.
At a news conference on Wednesday, a group of 12 Amazigh, Tibu and Tuareg lawmakers as well as civil representatives for the minority groups said they would not put forward candidates nor vote in the election, expected in six months.
The minority groups object to the fact that the drafting committee will vote on the consitution's contents, saying that a consensus of members - rather than just a majority - should be required to decide on cultural and other issues affecting them.
"The writing of the Libyan constitution will be based on the vote of the majority and not on the concept of agreement," Giuma Kusa, of the national Tibu assembly, said in a statement on behalf of the groups. "There will be no voice for minorities, our representatives would be purely symbolic."
The politicians said they would also boycott sessions of the General National Congress (GNC) in protest.
According to the law, the Amazigh, Tibu and Tuareg will have six seats among them on the committee, whose members will be divided equally between Libya's three regions: Tripolitania in the west, Cyrenaica in the east and Fezzan in the south.
GNC President Nouri Abusahmain is from the Amazigh minority. Speaking on state television on Tuesday, he praised the law as a positive step after attempts to draft a constitution had been repeatedly delayed because of political infighting.
Libya desperately needs a viable government and system of rule so it can focus on reconstruction and on healing the divisions opened up by the 2011 war.
Those who will draft the constitution will need to take into account political and tribal rivalries and calls for more autonomy in the east when deciding what political system Libya will adopt. They will have 120 days to draft a constitution which will then be put to a referendum.
Since the overthrow of Gaddafi, who ostensibly ruled Libya by a bizarre set of laws drawn up by him in his Green Book, minority groups have been lobbying for more rights.
Gaddafi suppressed Berber culture, including its language, and imprisoned dozens of Amazigh intellectuals in the 1980s whom he accused of plotting to overthrow the state. The Tibu, a black ethnic group, also say they were persecuted.
"The Libyan people suffered neglect, unfairness and persecution for four decades," Kusa said. "Some of it was worse for certain communities, namely the Amazigh, Tibu and Tuareg."
Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Robin Pomeroy