Syria - Government
President Bashar Assad has ruled the Syrian Arab Republic since 2000. The constitution mandates the primacy of Baath Party leaders in state institutions and society, and Assad and Baath party leaders dominate all three branches of government as an authoritarian regime. The regime’s multiple security branches traditionally operated autonomously with no defined boundaries between their areas of jurisdiction. Regime-linked paramilitary groups reportedly engaged in frequent violations and abuses, including massacres, indiscriminate killings, kidnapping civilians, extreme physical abuse, including sexual violence, and detentions.
Since March 2011, Syria has been in the throes of a conflict that has forced more than half of all Syrians to leave their homes. With 5.6 million Syrian refugees and 6.6 million internally displaced, the crisis, described as the worst humanitarian disaster of our time with more than 12 million people in need of assistance, has caused untold suffering for Syrian men, women and children. By 2020 the Syrian authorities l had regained control of more than 80 percent of Syrian territory, with the rest including the Idlib pocket [where three million people awaited their fate], areas managed by Turkey, and those under the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Moscow wanted the EU to pay for the reconstruction of what Russian forces and the Syrian regime had destroyed. The EU’s line was that it would only provide reconstruction assistance to Syria once “a comprehensive, genuine and inclusive political transition is firmly under way”.
The United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, Mr. Geir O. Pedersen, assumed his mandate on 7 January 2019. His work is guided by Security Council resolution 2254 (2015). Under UN Security Council Resolution 2254, Europeans no longer demand the downfall of the regime – yet they still require an undefined “meaningful transition”. As mandated by this resolution, the focus of the UN facilitated political process is on governance, a constitutional committee, and UN-supervised elections as the basis for a Syrian-led, Syrian-owned political settlement for Syria. Resolution 2254 also includes a focus on compliance with international law, the protection of civilians and unfettered humanitarian access, the cessation of hostilities, addressing terrorism, and the release of detainees and abductees, of whom more than 130,000 remained forcibly disappeared in Assad’s dungeons.
The "Syrian-led, Syrian-owned, credible, balanced and inclusive Constitutional Committee" to be facilitated by the United Nations (UN) as per Security Council resolution 2254 (2015) convened at the UN in Geneva, Switzerland (Palais des Nations) starting the week of 28 October 2019. Russian Defense Minister Army General Sergei Shoigu and Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General for Syria Geir Pedersen said 23 January 2020 they were satisfied with the joint work of the Syrian Constitutional Committee. “We met a year ago and said that we need to take more energetic measures to form a constitutional committee and to begin its work. Today a lot has been done, the committee has been formed, the first meetings have taken place, of course, this is a considerable merit of yours,” said Shoigu at a meeting with Pedersen in Moscow. According to the Russian Minister of Defense, this committee has rather good prospects with the mutual efforts of the UN and Russia.
The Syria Constitutional Committee's larger body comprises 150 participants: 50 each from the Syrian Government, 50 from the opposition, and 50 from civil society – the so-called “middle third” - who hail from different religious, ethnic and geographical backgrounds. The Special Envoy emphasized that he managed to establish work with the Syrian government. According to him, no one expected a quick resolution of constitutional issues. "I think it will take some time. We must work together so that the two sides sit together and discuss this issue. Then we can solve this issue," he added.
Syrian opponents meeting in Geneva as part of efforts to find a peaceful end to nearly a decade of conflict in their country have found common ground on which to pursue further discussions, UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen said on 29 August 2020. “There are still very strong disagreements and, you know, my Syrian friends are never afraid of expressing those disagreements. But I was also, you know, extremely pleased to hear the two co-chairs saying very clearly that they thought also there were quite a few areas of commonalities." Hoped-for trust-building gestures from the Syrian Government and the opposition, including progress on the release of abductees and detainees, had been elusive, he said. Syria, with a population of approximately 21 million, is a republic under the authoritarian regime of President Bashar al-Asad. The president makes key decisions with counsel from a small circle of security advisors, ministers, and senior members of the ruling Ba'ath (Arab Socialist Renaissance) Party. President Asad and party leaders dominate all three branches of government. In 2007 Asad was confirmed president for his second seven-year term in a "yes or no" referendum that was neither free nor fair in the eyes of local and international human rights advocates. Security forces reported to civilian authorities.
Russia’s proposals on a draft of a new Syrian constitution do not bind Syrians to make amendments to the country’s main legislation, since it is Syrian people who will decide on the matter, speaker of the Syrian National Council Khadija Abbas said. The draft, proposed by Russia, was based on ideas from the Syrian government, opposition and local authorities. It included such changes as removing "Arab" from the republic’s name, removing army from political life, expanding parliamentary power and others.
"Those proposals and ideas, presented by friendly Russia, should, in its opinion, help bring together the stances of Syrians. However, they are only ideas and proposals, coming under the title 'Approaches to the political settlement of crisis in Syria,' and the discussion on such a level is of political nature. It does not entail any constitutional or legislative changes, unless Syrians themselves agree with the necessity to introduce the amendments to the constitution as part of a political settlement and a way to get the country out of the crisis," Abbas said in an interview to the Al Watan newspaper 27 February 2017.
"The people of Syria are the only ones who adopt a constitution by a national agreement after its draft was developed by Syrian specialists," she said. A special committee for reviewing the draft can be appointed by the National Council only if the amendments are introduced by the president or a third of parliament members, Abbas said. The council does not create committees upon ideas proposed by any country, she emphasized.
During the first round of intra-Syrian talks in Astana in January 2017, Russia presented a draft new constitution of the country. By doing so, Russia opened a discussion on future constitution of Syria, according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The draft, proposed by Russia, was based on ideas from the Syrian government, opposition and local authorities. It included such changes as removing "Arab" from the republic’s name, removing army from political life, expanding parliamentary power and others. The draft constitution was presented to the Syrian opposition in order to speed up the process of putting an end to the war in the country, Russia's envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentiev said in January 2017.
The government systematically repressed citizens' ability to change their government. The security forces committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, caused politically motivated disappearances, and tortured and physically abused prisoners and detainees with impunity. Security forces arrested and detained individuals under poor conditions without due process. Lengthy pretrial and incommunicado detention remained a serious problem. The judiciary was not independent. There were political prisoners and detainees, and during the year the government sentenced to prison several high-profile members of the human rights and civil society communities. The government violated citizens' privacy rights. The government imposed severe restrictions on civil liberties: freedoms of speech and press, including Internet and academic freedom; freedoms of assembly and of association, including severe restrictions on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); and freedoms of religion and movement. An atmosphere of corruption pervaded the government. Violence and societal discrimination against women continued, as did sexual exploitation, increasingly of Iraqi refugees, including minors. The government discriminated against minorities, particularly Kurds, and severely restricted workers' rights.
On 15 October 2011 President Bashar al-Assad issued presidential decision No. 33 on forming the national committee for preparing a draft Constitution for the Syrian Arab Republic to be issued later according to the constitutional principles. On 27 February 2012 the Interior Ministry announced the results of the referendum on the new Constitution of Syria, with 89.4% of voters agreeing to it. In a press conference, Minister of Interior Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar said that that 8,376,447 citizens voted in the referendum on the new draft constitution, which constitutes 57.4% of the 14,589,954 eligible voters, with 7,490,319 (89.4% of voters) agreeing to it while 753,208 (9% of voters) didn't agree. He said that there were 132,920 invalid ballots, which makes up 1.6% of votes. The opposition had called for a boycott of the referendum.
The new document was to create a multi-party system in Syria, which has been governed by the Baath Party since 1963. Under the new charter, the country’s political system would be based on "pluralism", although it would ban the formation of parties on religious lines. It also stipulates that the president can be elected for two seven-year terms, but another article says these conditions only take effect after the next election for a head of state, set for 2014. This means that Bashar al-Assad could in theory stay in power for another 16 years. Chairman of the Russian Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, Aleksey Pushkov, said the new Syria constitution, which gained the support of 89% of voters, allows the implementation of democratic reforms long-awaited by the majority of Syrians and objectively indicates to a way out of the Syrian crisis in case of no foreign interference by force, plotted by those who call themselves "Friends of Syria".
The German Foreign Minister said the constitutional referendum was a "farce".
The President of the Republic is elected for 7 years as of the end of the term of the existing President. The President can be elected for only one more successive term. The President of the Republic is elected directly by the people; The candidate who wins the election for the President of the Republic is the one who gets the absolute majority of those who take part in the elections. If no candidate receives that majority, a rerun is carried out between the two candidates who receive the largest number of votes.
The President of the Republic and the Prime Minister exercise executive authority on behalf of the people within the limits provided for in the constitution. The candidate for the office of President of the Republic should: 1. Have completed forty years of age; 2. Be of Syrian nationality by birth, of parents who are of Syrian nationality by birth; 3. Enjoy civil and political rights and not convicted of a dishonorable felony, even if he was reinstated; 4. Not be married to a non-Syrian wife; 5. Be a resident of the Syrian Arab Republic for no less than 10 years continuously upon being nominated.
If the office of the President of the Republic becomes vacant or if he is permanently incapacitated, the first Vice-president assumes the President’s duties for a period of no more than 90 days of the President of the Republic’s office becoming vacant. During this period new presidential elections is conducted; If the office of the President of the Republic becomes vacant, and he does not have a Vice-president, his duties shall be assumed temporarily by the Prime Minister for a period of no more than 90 days of the date of the President of the Republic’s office becoming vacant. During this period new presidential elections shall be conducted.
The President of the Republic shall name the Prime Minister, his deputies, ministers and their deputies, accept their resignation and dismiss them from office. In a meeting chaired by him, the President of the Republic lays down the general policy of the state and oversees its implementation. The President of the Republic might call the Council of Ministers to a meeting chaired by him; and might ask for reports from the Prime Minister and the ministers.
The President of the Republic is the Commander in Chief of the army and armed forces; and he issues all the decisions necessary to exercise this authority. He might delegate some of these authorities. The President of the Republic shall pass the laws approved by the People’s Assembly. He might also reject them through a justified decision within one month of these laws being received by the Presidency. If they are approved a second time by the People’s Assembly with a two thirds majority, they shall be passed by the President of the Republic.
The legislative authority of the state is assumed by the People’s Assembly in accordance with the manner prescribed in the Constitution. The People's Assembly term is for four calendar years from the date of its first meeting and it may not be extended except in case of war by a law. Members of the People’s Assembly are elected by the public, secret, direct and equal vote in accordance with the provisions of the Election Law. A member of the People’s Assembly shall represent the whole people, and his/her commission may not be defined by a restriction or condition, and shall exercise duties under the guidance of his/hers honor and conscience. Half of the members of the People's Assembly at least shall be of the workers and farmers, and the law states the definition of the worker and the farmer. Members of the People's Assembly exercise the right of proposing laws and directing questions and inquiries to the cabinet or a minister in accordance with the rules of procedure of the Assembly.
Half of Syria’s parliamentary seats are reserved for laborers and farmers who have no party affiliation. Various committees whose members are appointed by either Assad himself or provincial governors, determine who is a non-affiliated farmer or laborer. Candidates also have to jump through other hurdles to get on the ballot paper, further undermining the democratic nature of Syrian polls. The Ba’ath party and political allies benefit from a block vote system used in Syrian elections. Several seats are assigned to each constituency. Under Syria’s current law, the voter has up to as many votes as seats available and the candidates with the highest vote totals win the seats. This gives an advantage to the more developed and established parties - in Syria’s case, the Ba’ath party. Even in a free and fair election environment, the block vote system works against the opposition if it is fragmented, as it is in Syria, and gives the party that has even a slight lead in the popular vote an overwhelming number of seats.
The People's Assembly undertakes the following functions: 1. Approval of laws; 2. Discussing the statement of the cabinet; 3. Perform a vote of no-confidence in the cabinet or a minister; 4. Approval of the general budget and final accounts; 5. Approval of development plans; 6. Approval of international treaties and conventions related to the safety of the state, including treaties of peace, alliance and all treaties related to the rights of sovereignty or conventions which grant privileges to foreign companies or institutions as well as treaties and conventions entailing additional expenses not included in its budget; or treaties and conventions related to loans' contract or that are contrary to the provisions of the laws in force and requires new legislation which should come into force; 7. Approval of a general amnesty; 8. Accepting or rejecting the resignation of one of the members of the Assembly.
A vote of no-confidence can only be conducted after the cabinet or one of its ministers is questioned in the Assembly; a vote of no-confidence should be upon a proposal made by at least a fifth of the members of the People’s Assembly and it must be obtained with a majority of the members; If a vote of no-confidence is obtained, the Prime Minister shall submit the cabinet’s resignation to the President, so should the minister who got a vote of no-confidence.
Russia presented the new Syrian draft constitution during the talks in Astana on 23-24 January 2017. The Astana talks on Syrian crisis settlement brought together the representatives of the Syrian government and the armed opposition groups for the first time in the six years of the Syrian war. As a result of the talks, Russia, Iran and Turkey agreed to establish a trilateral mechanism to monitor the ceasefire that came into effect on December 30, 2016. The Syrian draft constitution prepared by Russia takes into account the interests of both the Syrian government and opposition, the Russian Defense Ministry's Deputy Chief of the Main Operational Directorate Gen. Stanislav Gadjimagomedov said on 29 January 2017. "The draft constitution is neutral and balanced. It takes into account modern democratic principles and norms of a secular state as well as centuries-long Syrian traditions and customs … It is based on the compromise … taking into account the interests of current authorities and those, who pose themselves as opposition," Gadjimagomedov told Rossiya-24 broadcaster.
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