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New Syria parties law a political ploy: opposition

(AFP) / 4 August 2011

Syrian dissidents and activists said on Thursday President Bashar al-Assadís decision to allow opposition political parties was a political ploy.

They insisted that constitutional change is the only way to democracy.

“The regime is not serious about transforming the country from a dominant party into democracy and pluralism. Instead, it is trying to carry out some cosmetic work to improve its image,” Anwar al-Benni, head of the Syrian Centre for Studies and Legal Research, told AFP.

“Its attempt to introduce new laws as a means for reform has nothing to do with what the people are demanding; it is an attempt to get around the demands.”

Benni, a lawyer and one of the Damascus Declaration signatories, insisted that “the mentality which drafted the (political parties) law is the same security mentality which silences people but at the same time claims it is seeking reform and development.”

On Thursday, Assad authorised the “Parties Law, which had already been adopted as a bill by the government following a series of thorough discussions by lawmakers, intellectuals and Syrian citizens,” said state news agency SANA.

It allows political parties to be set up alongside Assad’s Baath party, in power since 1963 with the constitutional status of “the leader of state and society.”

Political pluralism has been at the forefront of demands by pro-reform dissidents who since March 15 have been taking to the streets across Syria almost daily to call for greater freedoms.

But Benni, who has been recently released from five years in jail, said the “the law restricts the electoral process to the lower house and local councils. It neglects the election of president, which means that appointing a president will be outside the polls.”

“The main foundation to build any state is the constitution. As long as the constitution suffers from problems that require essential amendments, any effort to build on the constitution is useless and illogical and any laws that are issued are dead.”

SANA said “citizens of the Syrian Arab Republic have the right to establish political parties and join them in accordance with this law,” stressing parties would have to commit “to the constitution, principles of democracy and the rule of law.”

For activist and lawyer Habib Issa, “we cannot change Syria into a beautiful and democratic country that we dream of without restoring the political life we lost during 40 years of tyranny.”

Issa, who has been detained five times and banned from practicing law for his opinions, took part in creating the Human Rights Society in Syria in 2001.

“The constitution is the father and mother of all laws and, if the regime had honest intentions, it would have suspended the 1973 constitution and worked on introducing a new constitution that would end oppression and turn the country into a democracy,” Issa said.

“We cannot talk about a democratic state under this constitution.”

Political activist and writer Luai Hussein described the new law as “a manoeuvre to shift the focus from a conflict over freedoms and rights to legal and procedural issues.”

“There is no meaning for a parties and election law in the absence of political life that allows Syrian to express themselves and practise their rights in public activities,” he said.

Hussein said he did not want to belong to a political parity, “but I want to express my opinion and practise my rights, including the right to demonstrate, in a free manner, without being shot at. Otherwise, I do not want a political parties law.”

Assad’s regime has used brutal force to crush the movement, killing more than 1,600 civilians and arresting thousands, according to human rights activists.

“We need to be honest and acknowledge that things in Syria need a radical change, including the need to change into a democratic state. Otherwise, we are not achieving anything,” said Issa.

He called for “forming political parties regardless of any laws because the reality in Syria now requires collective and institutional efforts.”

“I see that the regime is opposed to any legislation that would bring democratic changes,” he said.

In April, Assad issued orders lifting five decades of draconian emergency rule and abolishing the feared state security courts.

And in June, he said talks could lead to a new constitution and even end his Baath party’s monopoly on power, but refused to reform Syria under “chaos.”

The latest concession came only hours after the UN Security Council condemned the deadly crackdown and said those responsible should be held accountable.




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