All three branches of government are guided by the views of the Ba'ath Party, whose de jure primacy in state institutions is assured by the constitution. In practice, the decisions of those close to the Asad clan carry most weight. The Ba'ath platform is proclaimed succinctly in the party's slogan: "Unity, freedom, and socialism." The party was traditionally considered both socialist, advocating state ownership of the means of industrial production and the redistribution of agricultural land, and revolutionary, dedicated to carrying a socialist revolution to every part of the Arab world.
Founded by Michel 'Aflaq, a Syrian Christian, and Salah al-Din Al-Bitar, a Syrian Sunni, the Ba'ath Party embraces secularism and has attracted supporters of all faiths in many Arab countries, especially Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon. Over the past 20 years, economic modernization has changed the face of Syrian socialism, and Bashar al-Asad’s economic liberalization gave the private sector a dominant role. The regime called for a gradual reform of the Syrian economy, but this was not accompanied by political or security reforms.
Political energy generally was channeled toward clandestine opposition to the government in power and surreptitious criticism of other political forces and even other members of one's own political group, rather than toward active party participation. There were two reasons for this. First, few political parties attempted to gain broad membership; many were mere collections of prominent personalities without organization below the top central committees. Second, most citizens questioned the efficacy of party activity as a means to political ends and personal advancement. The fortunes of political parties have been uncertain; some party members have been exiled or have gone to jail if the party has lost power. Consequently, persons with political ambitions often preferred to operate as independents rather than affiliate with a party.
Nine smaller political parties are permitted to exist and, along with the Ba'ath Party, make up the National Progressive Front (NPF), a grouping of parties that represents the sole framework of legal political party participation for citizens. Created to give the appearance of a multi-party system, the NPF is dominated by the Ba'ath Party and does not change the essentially one-party character of the political system. Non-Ba'ath parties included in the NPF represent small political groupings of a few hundred members each and conform strictly to Ba'ath Party and government policies.
Originally established in 1971, the Ba'ath-dominated NPF represented the only framework for legal political party participation for citizens. The Ba'ath Party dominated the 250-member parliament, or People's Council. The NPF is a coalition of nine officially sanctioned parties. The full breakdown of the coalition's control of government in 2006 was:
During the 2007 parliamentary and local elections, NPF candidates won an overwhelming majority of offices. Some independent candidates the government had vetted were permitted to run and win seats at parliamentary and local levels. There was little or no real competition over the remaining seats for independents, with just a few rich businessmen jousting among themselves for spoils and prestige, since the regime would likely circulate official and "unofficial lists" that would signal to voters (and potential candidates) the approved "independents".
- Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party (135 seats or 54 percent) (19 ministers or 63 percent)
- Arab Socialist Union Party (7 seats); (no minister)
- Syrian Communist Party - Yusuf al-Faysal's wing (4 seats) (1 minister)
- Syrian Communist Party - Farha Bakdash's wing (4 seats) (1 minister of state without a portfolio)
- Socialist Unionists Party (7 seats) (1 minister)
- Arab Socialist Movement (4 seats) (one minister of state without a portfolio)
- Democratic Socialist Unionist Party (4 seats) (1 minister of state without a portfolio)
- National Pledge Party (2 seats) (1 minister of state for Red Crescent Affairs)
- Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party (no seats) (1 minister of state without a portfolio)
In addition to the NPF parties, there are some 20 opposition parties in Syria, which are tolerated to varying degrees by the government as long as they do not challenge its authority and the political status quo. Five of the parties are semi-united and belong to a group called the National Democratic Front (NDF). The government did not permit the establishment of independent political parties. In recent years citizens sought to establish political parties but did not receive licenses from the government. In practice the government tolerated some political parties, such as the Communist Union Movement, and it subjected members of other parties, such as the Communist Action Party, the People's Party, and the Arab Social Union, to harassment but not automatic arrest for membership. Members of Islamist parties were subject to immediate arrest and, in previous years, execution. Including the Muslim Brotherhood and 12 Syrian Kurdish parties, there were an estimated 30 illegal opposition political parties of varying sizes and influence operating in the country.
There were reports in 2005, in the wake of the June Ba'ath Party Congress, that the government would permit formation of new political parties and legalization of parties previously banned. These changes did not take place, and promises in response to Syria’s Arab Spring of greater openness to political participation have not borne fruit.
President Bashar al-Assad on 04 August 2011 issued Legislative Decree No. 100 for 2011 on Parties Law , which was earlier adopted as a draft law by the Government following a series of thorough discussions by law makers, intellectuals and the Syrian citizens. Previously the government did not permit the legal establishment of independent political parties, and it is unlikely this new law will change this state of affairs. Among the main stipulations of the Law are the definition of a party is a political organization which is established in accordance with the provisions of this law with the aim of the contribution in the political life through peaceful and democratic means to achieve that.
Citizens of the Syrian Arab Republic have the right to establish political parties and join them in accordance with this law. The parties participate in organizing and representing citizens politically and they work through that on developing political awareness with the aim of activating the political life and citizens' participation in it and forming leaderships that could assume public responsibilities. A party practices its activities through peaceful and democratic means to achieve identified and announced programs related to political, economic, social and cultural affairs with the aim of the participation in the political life in accordance with General Election Law.
A party established due to this law should adhere to the following principles:
An application for establishing a party should be signed by fifty founders who enjoy the following conditions:
- Commitment to the constitution, principles of democracy and the rule of law, respecting liberties, basic rights, world declarations of human rights and the agreements approved by the Syrian Arab Republic.
- Preserving the unity of the homeland and bolstering society's national unity.
- Making public the principles, goals, methods and funding of a party.
- A party cannot be based on religious, tribal, regional, denominational, or profession-related basis or on the basis of discrimination due to ethnicity, gender or race.
- A party's formation, selection of leadership and commencement of activities must be carried out using democratic basis.
- A party's methods must not include establishing public or covert military or paramilitary formations, nor must it use violence of any kind, threaten with it, or instigate it.
- A party cannot be a branch of a non-Syrian party or political organization, not can it be affiliated to one.
A party enjoys the legal personality and it has the right to practice its political activity a day after the Committee approves its founding. A party should not accept any sort of donation, merit or benefit from any non-Syrian bodies or legal persons. A party should not accept any monetary sums for donation but through ratified check which is accepted by banks working in the Syrian Arab Republic. A party should show the name of the donator and the value of donation in a legal account record and a donation value should not exceed SYP 500, 000 for each time or SYP two millions in a year.
- a founding member should enjoy the Syrian nationality for ten years at least.
- he/she should be at least twenty five years old when applying for a party establishment.
- lives in the Syrian Arab Republic.
- enjoys the political and civil rights.
- Not convicted of a felony or misdemeanor and misdemeanors to be identified with a decision of Justice Minister.
- should not be affiliated to another party.
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