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Many Syrians to shun elections.

Damascus Syrians vote today in parliamentary elections but many will not be voting. The pre-poll compaigning brought to the forefront a wide assortment of political nobodies who claim to be representing the people of Syria.

Disputing the term "election", ordinary Syrians were furious at the prospect of getting yet another rubber-stamp parliament of yes-men.

"The elections are a step in a void and will not lead to any change in the political landscape and security of Syria," Oraib Al Rantawi, director of the Amman-based Al Quds Centre for Political Studies, told AFP.

"[They] have been prepared by the regime without consultation with the opposition," Al Rantawi added.

No candidate has proven to be the kind of leader to thrive on accountability, justice, and democracy, rather than nepotism and the patron-client system that has flourished in Syria for the past 50 years.

The list of candidates was alarming, to start with. None of Syria's traditional notables, nor any of its community leaders or members of its powerful business families were running for office. No political independent or opposition figure was running from the Syria-based National Coordination Committee which is headed by veteran opposition chief Hassan Abdul Azzem.


Several Baathists, trying to show that things have changed, campaigned as political independents, like football coach Sharif Shehadeh, who appears regularly on Arab satellite TV as a political commentator on Syrian affairs.

Other candidates include Mohammad Sabah Obaid, a television actor and former President of the Actors Guild, Nizar Al Badin, a Charlie Chaplin mimic who is hired to perform at children's birthday parties.

His campaign posters were signed off by "The Charlie Chaplin Association in Syria." Grassroot Syrians were not enthusiastic about this upcoming Parliament, knowing from experience that parliamentary procedure (since March 1963) is nothing but cosmetic window dressing, aimed at beautifying government practices, rather than empowering people and cementing democratic culture.

Bashar Al Haraki, a member of the Syrian National Council, the principal opposition coalition, labelled the elections a "farce which can be added to the regime's masquerade".

He asserted that even those who support the regime "are not interested in [the elections] at all".

A total of 7,195 candidates have registered to contest the 250 seats which are up for grabs, according to state news agency SANA.

In theory, the Baath Party's hegemony over Syrian politics was broken by the new Constitution, passed last February, which dropped the controversial Article 8, designating the Baath Party as "leader of state and society".


Under the Constitution, new independent parties were allowed to run for the new Chamber--with Islamic parties being constitutionally barred--and in theory, whatever party wins gets to name the new Speaker, and thus, create the new Cabinet.

The oldest of the new parties was formed in August 2011, meaning that none of them has the network, funds, or membership base enjoyed by the Baath Party.

As a result of the Baath Party's loud campaign, several independents dropped out, like Asma Kaftaro, a women's right activist and granddaughter of Syria's late Grand Mufti Ahmad Kaftaro.

In a statement last week, she said that she was withdrawing her candidacy "because this is a period where justice has been lost." Shortly afterwards, Shaaban Azouz, president of the Workers Union, also withdrew his candidacy.



When this Parliament goes into effect, the cabinet of Prime Minister Adel Safar will automatically resign and transform into a caretaker cabinet. Depending on what party wins a majority (in this case the Baath) a new cabinet will be formed by late May, headed by a Baathist as Prime Minister.

This of course, has been the plan all along, explaining why the Baathists agreed to remove Article 8 of the Constitution, arguing that they can still overtake parliament in any election -- at least for the upcoming round. This chamber, it must be noted, will be charged with Syria's upcoming presidential elections, which constitutionally ought to take place in the summer of 2014. The role of the Baath Party's Regional Command in naming a presidential candidate has been abolished by the new Charter. Instead, the parliamentary majority (again, in this case the Baath) gets to name a presidential candidate, if he/she gets approval of no less than 25 MPs. In order for the elections to take place, no less than two candidates need to be running for presidential office. In this case, if this parliament survives until 2014 -- which is highly unlikely -- then in addition to creating the new Cabinet, the Baathists will also get to name the next president of Syria.

-- S.M.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:7SYRI
Date:May 7, 2012
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