Syrian Elector, Damascus (May 17, 2007)
- The staged nature of the legislative elections in Syria was clearly established in our previous two reports on the matter. But, if anyone needed a further clarification as to why the regime felt the need to go to the trouble of staging elections that it could easily bypass, the unanimous approval by the parliament of the nomination of Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, for a second 7-year term in office, tells all. For a semblance of legitimacy is always required even in the most authoritarian of states.
- The whole nomination process took less than five minute, even less that the amount of time that had been required for amending the Constitution back in 2000, a development that allowed Bashar to be nominated for the first term. The “historic” moment was then crowned by a 45 minute speech by Bashar that neglected to make any mention of the popular boycott of the elections, failed to include any promises with regard to internal reforms, boasted of unspecified and quite phantom achievements in the economic sector, defied the international community on issues relating the international tribunal, the peace process and Iraq, and ended up by promising more of the same over the next few years. If the attempts at engaging Bashar that had preceded the elections seem to have had any influence on him, their net effect, it seems, was to further radicalize his stands rather moderate them.
- To make things even worse, the speech coincided with the pronouncement of the harshest sentence to date under Bashar’s rule by Syria’s security tribunals against a well-know dissident, the very one indeed whose case was brought up by Senator Nancy Pelosi.
- Meanwhile, a close examination of the “new” members of parliament reveals absolutely no new faces. Even the “new” figures, are only new in the sense if being (s)elected for the first time to the parliament, but they are not new to the political scene. Most are former mid- to high-level state employees, in a civic, military or security capacity. Examples: Ammar Sa’ati, former MP and current head of the Student Union, Muhammad Farouq Abou al-Shamat, former MP and current head of the Damascus Branch of the Baath Party, and Muhammad Nabeel al-Khateeb, former head of the Economic Security Court and current Minister of Justice, etc.
- The “independent” candidates are mostly businessmen who are now serving in their second or third term, and all are affiliated, one way or another, in business arrangements with members of the inner circle of the regime, including Bashar and Maher al-Assad.
- Some of the independent candidates are clergymen with known ties to the security apparatuses, including Muhammad Habash and Abdussalam Rajih.
- The head of the Actor’s Guild, Mr. Saba Obeid, also won a seat, at the expense of so many covetous businessmen who spent much money in the elector campaign, the rumored caps on electoral spending notwithstanding. But then, Mr. Obeid, is hardly an independent voice. For it is well-established in Syria that all guilds and unions are heavily infiltrated by the Baath, and that their internal elections are even more staged than the parliamentary ones, and are often, supervised directly from the “Palace.” Mr. Obeid’s anti-opposition views are also well-documented.
- So, with people like these, Mr. Assad got the unanimous approval of his nomination, and the Syrian people got the shaft, again. But they might their say in the referendum, where a popular boycott could do far more damage than it did with the legislative ones. The boycott momentum might carry on. A slap in the face will not wake up the lion, but it will energize the Syrian people. Mr. Assad‘s real crisis of legitimacy will begin in the days following the referendum, and not end there or lie dormant again as he expects them too.