New Syrian law to allow multiparty system


THE SYRIAN government yesterday endorsed legislation providing for a multiparty system, four decades after the Baath party seized power.

“The government adopted a draft law regarding political parties in Syria as part of a programme of reform aimed at enriching political life, creating a new dynamic, and allowing for a change in political power,” the official news agency SANA said.

The law, to be debated in parliament during its next session on August 7th, would not allow political parties based on religion or tribalism, or that discriminate on the basis of ethnicity, gender or race. The law will regulate the registration and operations of parties and require them to commit “to the constitution, principles of democracy and the rule of law”. Adoption of the law will require amendment of article 8 of the constitution, which assures the Baath party the leading role in governance.

Ten other parties exist in Syria, including two communist parties, but they partner the Baath in a national front. The new law would provide for multiparty competition, which does not currently exist.

The measure is one of a series of reforms undertaken by President Bashar al-Assad in response to demands put forward by the protest movement over the past four months. He ended the emergency law allowing the security services a free hand to detain without charge people considered a threat to the state; granted citizenship to thousands of stateless Kurds; and issued an amnesty for activists arrested during protests.

However, these reforms have not satisfied regime opponents who continue to call for Mr Assad to be ousted and to mount mass demonstrations on Fridays after Muslim communal prayers.

Opposition spokesman Amer al-Sadeq dismissed the proposed law on parties, arguing that it is too little, too late. Human rights activists say 1,400 civilians and 350 security personnel have died in the government’s crack-down on protests since mid-March.

The government has blamed the violence on “armed groups” and foreign agitators.

Since the new law would continue to ban many of the 30 banned underground groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, other fundamentalist organisations and Kurdish ethnic groups seeking autonomy, the measure is certain to be vigorously rejected by these factions, which have played key roles in the opposition.

Separately, Tehran, Baghdad and Damascus have signed a memorandum of understanding providing for the laying of pipelines that would deliver Iranian natural gas to Iraq and Syria and eventually Lebanon and Europe.