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Russia Pens Draft Constitution for Syria

Sources report Moscow's draft constitution curtails presidential powers and the role of the military in state affairs, and proposes a “regional assembly” as a means of decentralization
Russia Pens Draft Constitution for Syria

In Moscow, as decision making circles try to spin the wheel of the political solution and present itself as an influential player in the political area alongside its great military influence, which has been apparent recently, a draft constitution has been made on behalf of the Syrian republic.

The draft, according to al-Akhbar’s sources, involves material amendments and new articles which differ from the constitution in place since February 2012.

The first article of the “Russian constitution” contains the phrase “the Syrian Republic,” clearly omitting “Arab.” The Russian draft drops the third article of the current constitution, which is that “the president’s religion is Islam” and “Islamic jurisprudence is the primary source of legislation.”

It also contains a new article to the effect that: “Kurdish cultural self-governance agencies and their organizations will use the Arabic and Kurdish languages as two equal languages,” while every region will have the right according to the law to use, in addition to the official language, the language of the majority of residents if it was agreed in a “local referendum.”

Perhaps what most prominently distinguishes the proposed draft is what is called the “regional assembly, which is “local administrations” in their current form with broadened powers restricting the central authorities. According to this draft, the organization of the local administration units will focus on implementing the principle of “decentralized authority” …. The law makes clear “the position of Kurdish cultural self-rule.” The “regional assembly” would be the legislative authority in the country alongside the “peoples’ assembly” (parliament) “in the name of the Syrian people.” This “assembly” would be set up to “ensure representative participation of the administrative units in legislative work and administration of the country.” It would be formed from “representatives of the administrative units.” Its sessions would be held separately from the current parliament, and would be allowed to hold a general session for elections and listening to the prime minister or president or foreign leaders, and would have the right to put in place its internal system.

The Russian draft also gives clear and additional powers to the parliament such as appointing members of the high constitutional court (one of the president’s powers in the current constitution) and appointing the head of the national bank (a change to the name of the central bank), and removing the current chairman from the position. The Russian draft also cancels the prevailing division for membership of parliament: half the members are from the working and peasant class and half from other classes.

The Russian draft contains a condition that to be nominated for president the candidate must be 40 years old and have Syrian nationality, removing the additional phrase from the previous constitution that he also needs to be born of “two parents holding Syrian nationality by birth” and “cannot be married to a non-Syrian.”

The president will be elected, according to the Russian draft, for a period of seven years, and the same person cannot be nominated for more than one following term. The elected president swears the constitutional oath before members of the people’s and regional assemblies.

Another new article indicates that the president will be tasked with “mediating between state authorities” and between “the state and society.” The draft does not specify any legislative powers for the president.

As high commander of the armed forces, the president has the right to take measures to deal with force in the event of aggression or the threat of aggression, and to “inform the peoples’ and regional assemblies.” The president has the right to announce a general mobilization and put approval of its announcement to the regional assembly, and is also permitted to announce a state of emergency “with prior approval of the regional assembly.” In an additional assurance of the role of this assembly, it is tasked with presidential duties in the event the presidency is vacant or the president is unable to fulfill their duties, after the prime minister is also proven unable in that respect.

Wide Powers for the Cabinet

Regarding the Cabinet, the president has the right to specify the general direction of the Cabinet’s work and oversee the implementation of the law and the work of state agencies. This Cabinet has a political responsibility for its work to be accountable to the president and the regional assembly.

One of the articles notes that the appointment of deputy prime ministers and ministers would “adhere to proportional representation of the full ethnic and sectarian spectrum of Syrian residents, and some positions are reserved for ethnic and sectarian minorities…”

Another article indicates that the prime minister must present a government work program to the regional assembly as well.

The government has the right — in additional powers from the current constitution — to “make treaties and agreements that give foreign companies concessions and agreements that mean additional expenses not stipulated in the budget…” and also “hiring and firing state and military employees.” The government can issue decrees as well, and “the issuance of these decrees will be done on the basis of the law that gives the government appropriate powers.”

A third of the regional assembly members can present a vote of no confidence on the government (like the people’s assembly). The two assemblies are also allowed in their “joint session” to have a vote of no confidence in the government with a majority of votes of those present. Absent from the Russian draft is any mention of what the 2012 constitution states as “the prime minister and his deputies and the official ministers are accountable to the president”… and that the president “has the right to refer these to trial” (articles 121 and 124).

The High Constitutional Court

The Russian draft adds additional members to the court, making it 11 members, “appointed by the regional assembly” after the president nominates them by decree (article 140).

In the “transitional provisions” the Russian draft indicates that the legislation issued previously is in effect until amended by agreement with the provisions of the “new constitution,” with the amendment taking place within a year of the constitution being adopted.

Elections of the new arrangement are run for “the regional assembly throughout a period not exceeding a year after the adoption of the constitution,” which will take effect after a referendum is held.

The Russian draft puts the armed forces “under the supervision of society and it will not intervene in the field of political interests or have a role in the transition of authority.” It also puts organizing military work or with a military character outside the authority of the state.

This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.

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