x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Law allowing Syrian political parties not enough, activists say

The Baathists' 50-year stranglehold on power in Syria will not end unless sweeping changes are also made to the constitution, legal experts and civil-rights campaigners said yesterday.

DAMASCUS // A draft law allowing new political parties will not end the Baathists' 50-year stranglehold on power in Syria unless sweeping changes are also made to the constitution, legal experts and civil-rights campaigners said yesterday.

"It is a welcome step forward only if other positive steps follow, including a revision of the constitution," said one civil rights activist.

Under the new law approved by the Syrian cabinet all parties must commit to respecting constitutional clauses that, at the moment, enshrine the Baath party's exclusive right to govern Syria. The president, Bashar Al Assad, is the party's leader. Protesters defying his regime in almost daily demonstrations since March 15 have been demanding democratic changes.

The constitution is currently under review and Mr Al Assad has said the Baathists' monopoly may be ended as a result. One of the law's provisions, insisting that no political organisation can have a religious, tribal or regional platform, appears to render the Baath party itself - more properly known as the Arab Socialist Baath party - technically illegal.

A Syrian legal affairs commentator said: "In order to meet the new law, the Baathists will have to change their own party constitution and drop the 'Arab' reference."

The authorities insist they are in the process of implementing comprehensive political reforms that will usher in democracy before the end of the year. Officials point to a series of measures, including scrapping martial law, as proof that change is under way.

Critics and anti-government protesters have dismissed such moves as a public-relations ploy, designed to assuage growing international and domestic pressure.

One activist said: "The hated emergency laws have now gone but more people are being arrested and killed by the security forces than before."

He was adamant the new political parties law would have no impact on the five-month-old uprising.

"A parties law will not stop the protests, it will make no difference, it is much too late, we needed this years ago," he said.

psands@thenational.ae