Assad trying for a second straight seven-year term.
By YAAKOV BEN-ZVI
High-ranking Syrian sources disclosed to the London based Alhayat newspaper that the Syrian leadership has set a date for legislative and municipal authority elections to take place shortly before a referendum to reelect President Bashar Assad.
The election parade in Syria will start with the legislative elections in April for 250 members of the Syrian parliament, who receive a four-year term. The last parliamentary elections took place in March 2003 and gave an overwhelming majority to the ruling Ba'ath party and its satellites. However, 84 independents were also elected.
The presidential referendum is then scheduled to take place at the end of May. All eligible Syrian voters will be called upon to give their confidence to Assad for a second straight seven-year term. The Syrian president was sworn in July 17, 2000, after the death of his father and former president Hafez Assad.
The upcoming legislative elections are expected to operate under the constraints of a new law targeting emerging political parties. The law, which allows the establishment of new parties on the condition they relinquish religious and national agenda platforms, was recommended by the Syrian Ba'ath party at its 10th convention in June 2005.
Currently, the new law has not been passed or ratified by the Syrian leadership along with other political reform steps, something typical of the code of conduct in the presidential palace in Damascus.
Instead, it is widely reported that the Syrian president has recently approved a different new law that includes strict regulations on campaign financing.
This law obligates candidates to use an accountant to supervise expenditures during the election campaigns, and limits expenses to about $1,200. If candidates are in violation of these new provisos, they will be subjected to fines amounting to 10 times the sum dictated by the presidential palace.
Sources in Syria estimated that current independent MPs - most of them being businessmen, merchants and other influential figures - spent $1 million in their campaigns. Syrian authorities said the new law blocked the wealthy and would provide the opportunity for different spheres of Syrian society, such as academics and intellectuals, to participate in the elections.
The municipal elections are scheduled for August. Syrian Administration Minister Hilal Atrash told Alhayat that a "political decision" had been taken to prepare for a new municipal election law to end the practice of appointments in Syrian municipalities.
Syria is divided into 14 provinces, 107 cities, 248 towns and 5,860 villages, which means 15,029 members of local government are to be elected. The last municipal elections that were held in 2003 showed a low 37% participation figure.
The current Syrian leadership continues to demonstrate the same policies that were typical of the old guard. Damascus is wedged into slow and gradual changes that boil down to a recurrent principal target - strengthening and fortifying the current regime to allow Assad to face the challenges in both the domestic and regional arenas.
Syrian opposition parties are considering the possibility of participating in the legislative elections, said Hassan Abedelazim, an attorney and the spokesman of the National Democratic Union that joins seven opposition factions in Syria, in an interview to the Al Khaleej newspaper published in Abu Dhabi.
Abedelazim, who heads the Arab Socialist Union party, vehemently denies the allegations that the Syrian opposition received a sum of $5 million from the US to finance its activities.
The Syrian opposition, which suffers from internal divisions and differences of opinion, is publicly against using violence to oust the current regime and calls for the scrapping of the emergency laws in Syria and to improve the human rights situation.
The Syrian opposition parties have branches and supporters abroad. A meeting of all the Syrian opposition factions that have ties with the political parties inside Syria is scheduled to convene in the Dutch city of Arenheim at the end of January.
Another significant opposition factor that should not be disregarded is the National Rescue Front founded by exiled former Syrian vice president Abedelhalim Khaddam, who joined the Muslim Brotherhood Movement in Syria and Kurdish opposition factions in Syria.
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