Syria’s New Prime Minister
Riad Farid Hijab is the former agriculture minister President Assad recently appointed as Syria’s new prime minister. Syrians went to the polls to elect a new parliament last month, and Assad has asked Hijab to form a new government. In Syria, as in Russia, the position of prime minister is mainly administrative, with the president holding ultimate authority as head of state.
Until yesterday, I was totally unaware that Syria held parliamentary elections last month, the first elections in the country’s history in which non-Baathist opposition parties were allowed to stand candidates in all provinces. The election was held under Syria’s revised constitution, which for the first time allows non-Baathist parties to serve in government. Although Hillary Clinton and other western leaders have had a lot to say about Syria in the last few months, I can’t recall any of them mentioning the Syrian elections. It must have slipped their minds.
Participation of Opposition Parties in the Elections
According to Alakbhar English, which offers the most comprehensive English coverage of the elections, the hopelessly divided Syrian opposition approached the parliamentary elections in three totally divergent ways. One group called for entering the parliamentary elections, based on their view that it would increase the public profile of opposition parties. Two parties that took this position – the People’s Will Party and the SSNP (Popular Front for Change and Liberation) – fielded 45 candidates.
The second group, consisting mainly of the Syrian Nation Council (SNC), the Building the Syrian State movement and similar opposition parities and figures, called for a complete boycott of the elections on the basis that participating would mean compromising with the regime and recognizing its legitimacy.
The third group, which calls themselves the “Muhammad Brigades,” belongs to the Free Syrian Army (FSA). They vowed to carry out assassinations against candidates who participated in the elections. In a FSA video released online the stated, “If they do not withdraw, we will make them withdraw by force.”
Candidates from the National Progressive Front (NPF), the only opposition party recognized prior to the constitutional reforms, stood in the May 7th elections as the National Unity coalition. In past elections, the NPF included the parties of Syria’s workers and farmers. Yet previously no party other than the Baath Party was allowed to field candidates in all Syrian provinces. The Communists and the Syrian Social Nationalist (SSNP) parties also had a modest showing in last month’s elections, as they are old established parties, despite the prior restriction on their ability to field candidates. Other opposition parties, many of which are less than a year old, had far less funding for advertising and faced a major uphill battle in getting their principles and goals in front of the Syrian public.
A Political Loss for Assad
Karl Sharo, who covered the election returns for Alakbhar English feels the elections, which were intended to bolster support for the Assad government, did just the opposite. The turn-out for the elections was a pitiful 51%. This related in part to the SNC boycott and, in part, to the impracticality of setting up polling stations in areas of active conflict, such as Hama and Homs. Assad’s Baathist party reportedly won 183 seats out of 250, giving it a commanding 73% share of the new parliament. Crucially, none of the new parties that were established in the lead up to the elections managed to win a single seat.
Sharo feels that the timing of the elections, while opposition strongholds like Hama and Homs remain active combat zones, suggests Assad has already accepted Syria as a divided country. He sees this, along with the low turn-out, the abysmal showing of reform parties and widespread allegations of electoral fraud by opposition candidates who previously subscribed to his reforms, as a clear sign of Assad’s weakening political influence.
Given the parallel, equally dysfunctional process operating in the Syrian National Council (SNC), the umbrella opposition group seeking to oust Assad, Sharo is troubled by the current political vacuum in Syria. He describes the current disarray in the SNC, sparked by the reelection of Burhan Ghalioun as leader, and which ultimately culminated in his resignation. Sharo feels the sectarian infighting reflects growing frustration among youthful opposition protestors with the SNC’s inability to transform their organizing efforts into political gains.
The SNC: a Creation of the Council on Foreign Relations
This might relate to the rarely reported fact that the SNC is a creation of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), a highly secretive elite roundtable group founded in 1921 by the Rockefeller family. According to Charlie Skelton, one of the few “mainstream” reporters to cover the recent Bilderberg conference in Chantilly Virginia, Basma Kodmani, a SNC co-founder and executive committee member, is also a member of the CFR. She was an invited guest at last week’s Bilderberg (another secretive roundtable elite) conference, as well as the 2008 Bilderberg Group meeting.
Skelton refers readers to the Syrian National Council website, which indicates the SNC is a non profit public policy research organization registered in the District of Colombia and headquartered in Washington DC. Sounds to me like a puppet government in waiting to oversee a US/NATO occupation of Syria – just like the ones the Bush administration installed to oversee the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq.