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Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Baathists Must End Monopoly On Power In Syria
Article 8 of the constitution needs to be removed immediately in
order for Syrians to start taking the government's reform promises seriously
By Sami Moubayed
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
anybody in the Syrian opposition or intelligentsia about political change in
Syria, and they would say that Article 8 of the constitution needs to be
removed immediately in order for people to start taking the government's reform
controversial article, penned in 1973, designates the Baath Party as
"leader of state and society". It also establishes the National
Progressive Front (NPF), a parliamentary coalition of socialist parties under
the umbrella of the Baath, who have monopolised political life in Syria for 38
years against the will of the Syrian people.
8 was inserted into the Syrian constitution exactly 10 years after the
Baathists came to power and ever since then activists have been lobbying for
its removal. That dream is now more of a reality than ever before as
authorities are preparing for a Constitutional Assembly that would draft a new
legal document for Syria — one that omits Article 8.
8 alone, however, is not the only problem with Syria's existing constitution.
There are entire chunks in the constitution authored in rosy socialist language
that also need to be eliminated.
language, about western imperialism and a classless society, was acceptable and
indeed popular in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but it resonates badly with a
rising generation of young Syrians who are fed up with almos 50 years of Baath
Election of president
articles also need to be cut out, which speak of a socialist state, a socialist
economy, a socialist education system, and an ‘ideological army' based on Baath
Party thought. Among the proposed changes — put forth by a team of Syrian legal
experts earlier last summer — is empowering the premiership at the expense of
the presidency, thereby reducing certain presidential powers in order to bring
forth a strong and capable prime minister.
prime ministers since 1970 have had strong executive powers but no political
duties, something that will change, with Syria's new constitution. A new prime
minister would have to be named by parliament, rather than the president, and
can only be removed by a vote of no-confidence by parliament. Under the current
system, the president of the republic can appoint and dismiss prime ministers
at will, without resorting to parliament.
based on Article 8, the current constitution says that the Baath Party's
regional command gets to name a presidential candidate who is then voted upon
through a popular referendum. If Article 8 goes, then so does the entire role
of the regional command, changing the mechanism for electing a new president
once President Bashar Al Assad's tenure ends in 2014.
option is to elect a president through parliament, as was the case in the 1940s
and 1950s, who would need a third plus one vote in the chamber. The last time
that happened was back in December 1962 when Syria's last pre-Baath civilian
president, Nazem Al Qudsi, was elected to office.
proposed changes are reducing the term of the president, down from 7 to 4-5
years, and limiting his tenure to two terms only. Again, it used to be four
years in the past but was extended to seven years in 1970. At one point, a
president could not stay in power for more than one round; where lawmakers
argued that during his final year in office, any incumbent would focus more on
re-election than on catering to the needs of the nation.
avoid that, incumbents had to leave office, campaign for re-election as private
citizens, and then return to office once four years had passed. That clause,
inserted by president Hashim Al Atasi in Syria's first constitution in 1928,
was changed by president Shukri Al Quwatli in 1947, who amended the
constitution to enable a sitting president to stay in power for two consecutive
rounds with no interruption.
disturbances began in Syria in March, authorities announced a series of
measures aimed at combating public discontent, like raising wages and
formulating a new constitution that cancels Article 8.
any such proposed changes would have sounded ludicrous — in fact heretical —
for the Baathists. For years, they had curtly refused touching Article 8,
arguing that it "preserves secularism of the state (given that the party
is a secular one) and prevents Islamic groups, like the Muslim Brotherhood,
from coming to power."
resistance still stands, but it has slowly eroded as angry young Syrians have
taken to the streets almost daily for six months now, demanding political and
economic change — and, in most cases, the fall of the Baath regime altogether.
hard reality is beginning to sink into the upper echelons of power in Damascus;
that the Baath Party can no longer survive with the same regime, methods, tools
and personalities that it used for nearly 50 years.
Baathists need to dismantle their monopoly on power at will, because they are
going to have to do so anyhow under increased pressure from the angry Syrian
street. At any rate, Baath Party control — if not mandated by a true democracy
— cannot survive in a new Syria. Article 8 and a democracy — which is the
ultimate role of the Syrian uprising — can never go hand in hand.
-This commentary was published in The GULF NEWS on 13/09/2011
-Sami Moubayed is editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine in Damascus, Syria