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Syria - Politics

At gatherings in Syria, politics was often the chief topic of conversation; the Middle Eastern stereotype of fervent political coffeehouse discussions applied to Syria. Politics absorbed much of the active energy of the Syrian male. Most Syrians had strong opinions about what is wrong in Damascus or in their subdistrict centers and about what should be done. Urban Syrians, whether wealthy or poor, educated or illiterate, talk of political personalities and the central government. Rural Syrians talk of local political personalities, agricultural problems, and local politics. However, public criticism of the regime was muted and circumspect. Among the tribes and in more isolated villages, political discussion existed, but primarily on the basis of relations between villagers or tribes.

Because of its authoritarian nature, the regime acts irrationally at times, which leads it to lurch towards the use of violence. Despite its monopoly on power, the regime is weak. The regime has systematically destroyed any signs of political life or independent institutions, organizations, parties, or media. The naked will of the regime is the only law. the regime as completely saturated in corruption, another factor militating against its ability to institute real reforms or serve as a transitional government leading to a more open, transparent system.

The Asad regime held power longer than any other Syrian government since independence; its survival is due partly to a strong desire for stability and secularism in a region that had seen many conflicts. The expansion of the government bureaucracy has also created a large class dependent on the regime. The President's strength through early 2011 was partly due to his personal popularity among Syrians who believed he sought to bring change and reform.

Following the onset of Syrias protests against the dictatorship, however, his strength was due more to the army leadership's continued loyalty and the effectiveness of Syria's large internal security apparatus. The leadership of both is comprised largely of members of Asad's own Alawi sect. The several main branches of the security services operate independently of each other and outside of the legal system. The primarily Alawi irregulars known as Shabiha have demonstrated great violence against protesters and those opposing the regime. Each continues to be responsible for human rights violations of greatly escalating levels.

The president and the Ba'ath Party suppress political opposition. Discussion about potential political reform began after President Bashar al-Asad's July 2000 accession to the presidency. During the summer of 2000, Syria saw the emergence of the Damascus Spring (July 2000-February 2001) movement that included increased social and political debate and activities, which continued through autumn 2001 when the government cracked down on its organizers, jailing the most prominent of them.

During 2001, two independent members of parliament, Ma'mun al-Humsy and Riad Seif, who had advocated political reforms, were stripped of their parliamentary immunity and tried and convicted of charges of "attempting to illegally change the constitution." Criticism of economic policies became common in 2010 and 2011, but suggestions by the few independents that the security forces be controlled or greater voice be given to unofficial sources were met with threats.

The Government allowed independent non-NPF candidates to run for a limited allotment of seats in the 250 member People's Council. The allotment of non-NPF deputies was 83, ensuring a permanent absolute majority for the Ba'th Party dominated NPF. Elections for the 250 seats in the People's Council took place in March 2003. The election could not be characterized as free and fair because the majority of the seats in the People's Council were reserved for members of the ruling National Progressive Front, and the government approved all candidates.

In 2012, the country held parliamentary elections, and in 2014, there was a presidential poll. The 2012 vote was the first since the ruling Baath Party came to power in 1972 that allowed non-Baathist candidates to run - a reform highlighted by the regime, which said the introduction of a multi-party contest was an historic step. In 2012 most of the 250 parliamentarians elected were Assad supporters, either Baath members or of groups aligned with the ruling party. In that election the Ba'ath party and its allies won 168 seats in the 250-seat legislature. The opposition received just six seats with the remainder going to non-partisan farmers and laborers, most considered regime placemen.

The Syrian electoral commission announced 16 April 2016 that the National Unity coalition, comprising the ruling party and its allies, had won 200 of the 250 seats at the People's Assembly (Majlis al-Sha'ab). "Out of 8,834,994 eligible voters, more than five million cast their votes," commission head Hisham al-Sha'ar was quoted as saying. The figure was equal to 57.56 percent.

2017 - Presidential Elections

The the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) envisions presidential election and a new round of parliamentary elections in the October 2017 timeframe.

UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura said 11 March 2016 that reaching an agreement on a new all-inclusive government would be one of the key points during upcoming peace talks in Geneva. "The most important point is the three-point agenda, which has been defined by the Security Council and which the Russian Federation adopted, too, which is resolution 2254. The first one is an all-inclusive new government," de Mistura said in an interview.

The second one is a new constitution and the third one is new elections in 18 months from the beginning of the talks, so from the 14th of this month, to provide both parliamentarian and presidential elections and the UN supervision in 18 months. So my hope is that we may progress, on paper or not on paper, but to progress on, at least, on the first item during the first phase of these talks, de Mistura said.

On 31 March 2016, Assad raised the possibility of holding an early snap presidential election, too, telling a Russian media outlet that he was ready to do so, if the Syrian people wanted it. "This depends on the Syrian peoples stance, on whether there is a popular will to hold early presidential elections, he said. Assad didnt explain how that popular will would be communicated.

The Syrian leader emphasized that snap presidential elections were not a part of the current political process. "It has been proposed to hold parliamentary elections after the new constitution [has been adopted]. These elections will show the balance of powers on the political arena. Then, a new government will be formed in accordance with the representation of political forces in the new parliament As for presidential elections, that is a an entirely different issue," Assad said.

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