Posted by Joshua on Wednesday, April 18th, 2007
Parliamentary elections will be held in Syria on April 22-23. The public takes little interest in the elections because parliament does not write or modify legislation, merely ratifying it. Voter turnout is expected to be between 4 and 10 percent, according to unofficial estimates. "Only one third of the 250 parliamentary seats are actually up for grabs. The other two thirds (167 seats) are automatically allocated to the Nationalist Progressive Front (NPF), a coalition of the Baath party and nine other parties that has ruled Syria since 1972. NPF candidates are selected for their loyalty to the party line and clean record with Syrian security services. The only real competition is among thousands of independent candidates for the remaining 83 seats. Independents have been allowed to run for parliament since 1990, a step that was intended to add a gloss of legitimacy and representation to the People's Assembly." Read the informative article by Omayma Abdel Latif, "Syria: Elections without Politics," published in the Arab Reform Bulettin.
These have included bumping up real GDP growth in 2004 from 4% to 8.5%, changing the current-account balance for 2005 into a large surplus, rather than a deficit, as reported by the IMF, and changing the inflation figure for 2006 to 10.5% from 17.9%. The high level of growth claimed by the government appears to be at variance with the evidence pointing to a steady decline in oil production, with the finance minister, Mohammed al-Hussein, recently stating that in 2006 Syria became a net oil importer.
Riyad Sayf, an ex MP in Syria's parliament who was jailed for five years because of his activities as one of the leading activists of the Damascus Spring movement of 2001 has published a very long article in As-Safir, describing his experience in the People's Assembly or parliament.
This translation of only the first bit of the article is thanks to mideastwire.com. The parts that were not translated relate how the leaders of parliament and government that Saif criticized took their revenge on him by taxing him to death, threatening him and ultimately jailing him. The main conclusion is that it is impossible to fight corruption without democracy. He writes, "Corruption is a natural result of tyranny and its legitimate offspring."
Riyadh Sayf – ex MP in the Syrian People’s Assembly,
As Safir on April 18:
Sayf added: “This success in industry started with a workshop for manufacturing shirts in 1963 to building the New Adidas Company in 1993 after I got the franchise from the international Adidas Corporation which was the first of its kind in Syria. The production of this factory covered the needs of the market in Syria and was exported to all over the world, especially the European Union carrying the international Adidas trademark with the term “made in Syria”. This industrial activity provided more than 1600 hundred jobs. I made sure that operations went on smoothly in a developed atmosphere permeated with the spirit of teamwork and cooperation as the company provided its employees with top salaries as well as excellent services including meals, social care, children care, healthcare, swimming pools, and entertainment through plays…”
Sayf continued: “My hope was that if I managed to become an MP, I would generalize this experience throughout the productive and service segments in Syria through the legislative authority which is supposed to unite all the patriots and supervise the workings of the government and state institutions. I was encouraged by the wishes of some of my friends and those knowledgeable about my industrial experience especially as the authorities had launched a campaign back then full of promises of implementing reform which would start after the parliamentary elections in the knowledge that I had never before paid any attention to the elections because of my belief that they were only for appearance’s sake and their results were known beforehand…On the election day, 2000 young men and women volunteers from the company, family, and friends spread across the electoral centers proving their enthusiasm…”
Sayf added: “I was woken the day following the elections by the noise of those coming to congratulate me and tell me that I got the highest result among the independent candidates. That moment was the most important turning point in my life and I pledged to myself that I would remain loyal to the trust given to me by the sons of Damascus. I started preparing for my mission by dedicating my main office in downtown Damascus for the activities related to my new job helped by a cadre that would aid me in gathering information and preparing reports. My efforts throughout the first period as a member of the people’s council in 1994-1998 were focused on calling for economic and financial reform, removing the obstacles hindering the revival of national industry, and restoring the balance between salaries and costs, and focusing on fighting corruption which I consider to be the source of all evils and the number one cause for all the failures and catastrophes that befell and are still afflicting the Syrian people.”
Sayf added: “Back then, I hadn’t discovered the truth that corruption is a natural result of tyranny and its legitimate offspring. Thus I entered into a Don-Quixotic and completely unequal battle with the government and the mafias of corruption which ended naturally in my defeat and my exit from my position at the end of the term having lost all that I had earned throughout my life and laden with taxes and debts, some of them artificial and some exuberant, as well as my extreme loss with the death of my son Iyad (21 years old) in mysterious and suspicious circumstances on August 2, 1996. My four year experience in the parliament taught me that here this authority is not linked to legislating or monitoring the executive branch or holding it accountable as any legislative authority is supposed to do or as is the case in the parliaments of the civilized world.”
Sayf continued: “This parliament’s role was restricted to the formalities or adding a cosmetic touch to the whole process that would make the regime appear in a democratic guise to the Syrian public and the world especially in the presence of the 1973 constitution which gives the president the right to issue legislation whenever he wants. All the laws suggested by the government were passed routinely after allowing some space for the MPs to discuss it for appearance’s sake without allowing them to introduce any amendment to their content. More often than not, the discussions were prefabricated by the speaker as if we were in a theatre rehearsing a play with a crew of talented speech makers experienced in deluding the media all coming from the Ba’th party or the parties of the national progressive front thus robbing the vote of any true meaning.”
Sayf added: “If any of the new members wanted to fly outside the flock and insisted on going against the flow, he would be brought back to the “correct” path either through incentives if available or through terrorization and punishments if necessary. Here was my problem with the assembly and the government. My suffering started with the protests by the finance ministry against my first ever participation on the 15th of November 1994 and continued with repeated interruptions by the speaker and ministers of most of my participations which I presented until the finance minister started imposing exuberant taxes on me. I accepted back then an invitation by the head of the finance department in Damascus who told me on the phone that he has news that will please me a lot. In that meeting, he started talking by reminding me that we were from the same neighbourhood and then announced that he wanted to help me by mediating with the finance minister “so he would get off my back”. He ad ded: “some criticism is ok and I will alert you to the points that you can criticize as I did with you colleagues in the council; then after the end of the budgetary session I will arrange a meeting for you with the minister”…” – As Safir, Lebanon