Reform Proposal Fails to Convince Kurds

Lawyers and activists say that draft law will only shore up power of the Baath party

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad promised a number of reforms as protests calling for constitutional amendments, civil rights, democratic elections, and a multi-party system gained momentum in the country. Key among such reforms was the passing of a draft law allowing a multi-party-based political system. State officials said that the new law will allow political pluralism and activism and enhance popular democracy, adding that it allows people at all levels to voice their demands and aspirations in the best interests of the nation.

However, some ethnic minorities, such as Syria’s three million Kurds, were disappointed by the content of the law, which failed to recognise important Kurdish demands. The Kurdish community – mainly located in the northern and north-eastern parts of Syria, and in areas close to Aleppo and other big cities – demands recognition by the constitution as the country’s second biggest ethnic entity. Such recognition would entitle the Kurds to a number of cultural rights and enable them to help in building the wider Syrian society.

The new parties law has a dealt a blow to these hopes as it calls for committing to the constitution, which in turn emphasises that the ruling Baath party will lead the government and society.

Mustapha Ismail, a lawyer and a Kurdish civil rights activist, criticised the way the new law was set up.

“It caught my attention that the Syrian government did not engage rights groups in formulating this new law and so ignored leading centrist opposition figures,” he said, adding that the new law contained many obstacles to the emergence of political parties, such as rules that prevent the forming of parties on religious, tribal, regional, ethnic, or professional basis.

Such rules, according to Ismail, will prevent the formation of Kurdish parties with an ethnic character. He added that the new law should aim to develop democratic rights; however, its draft did not meet the conditions for a standard party system.

Ismail pointed out another negative aspect of the new law, which not only gives the right to allow or prevent the formation of parties to a committee, but also gives this committee the right to monitor, penalise, and disband political parties.

“Such privilege should only be given to the judicial system,” he said, adding that the draft law “prevents most political prisoners and imprisoned activists from even thinking of forming or participating in the formation of a party”.

Lawyer Mahmoud Khalu also criticised the new law and said it could not match up to  the principles of similar laws in any other country, such as the core principle of power transition. Khalu added that, according to the new law, the committee that gives licenses to the parties is chaired by the interior minister.

“This alone is a dangerous violation of democracy as such ministry is not an independent body,” he said.

On the same issue, rights activist Jawan Ibrahim said, “This law does not meet the demands of millions of Syrians, who took to the streets calling for political freedoms. It is a law that that makes both existing and emerging parties mere followers of the Baath party, which would still lead the government and the society.”

Observers agree that the draft law was presented in an attempt to contain the situation and put angry people at rest without changing the general political reality imposed on the Syrian people.

The draft law in its current shape falls short of meeting the prospects of democracy in the country and the public no longer trust the regime’s decisions and laws.

Many such decisions have been made during the past five months; but the situation continued to deteriorate.