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    'Food for Thought': Here's What Opposition Says About Draft Syrian Constitution

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    Russia has prepared a draft version of a Syrian constitution to facilitate dialogue between the numerous sides involved in the conflict to provide additional impetus to the peace process. Representatives of the Syrian opposition hailed Moscow for its efforts, sharing what they think the founding legal document of their nation should contain.

    Syrian politician Qadri Jamil, a leader of the Popular Front for Change and Liberation, told RBC that a special commission should be tasked with writing the new constitution, taking into account foreign and domestic experience.

    Khaled Issa, a representative of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a leading Kurdish political party in northern Syria, called the draft a "positive step," adding that for the first time in a very long time specific proposals on how to resolve the Syrian conflict through diplomatic means have surfaced.

    "Sadly, the opposition is largely interested in how to get rid of the current regime and oust Bashar al-Assad. They are also concerned with who will receive power in the interim. They don't have a clear-cut vision or detailed suggestions on institutional reforms," he lamented.  

    Russian diplomats presented the draft of the Syrian constitution, prepared by Russian and Arab experts, to those taking part in the Astana peace talks which were held on January 23-24. The document was also distributed among the participants of a meeting, involving Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and a delegation of the Syrian political opposition, which took place on January 27 in Moscow. Those present at the meeting told RBC that the draft provided "food for thought."

    The document, which Sputnik published on January 31, suggests changing the official name of Syria to the Syrian Republic. But Qadri Jamil asserted that removing the word "Arab" is not a matter of principle.

    "We need to review the balance of power and the mood. [We should also determine] whether this will help to resolve the crisis or exacerbate the situation," he said.

    The draft states that Syria's political system should be "based on the principle of political pluralism," adding that "ideological diversity shall be recognized in Syria."

    This comes in sharp contrast to the current political system in the country, RBC asserted. It is based on Ba'athism, an ideology which combines the principles of Arab nationalism, pan-Arabism, Arab socialism and anti-imperialism, calls for the establishment of one-party states and is adverse to political pluralism.

    This is why changing the official name of the state matters, Vasily Kuznetsov, a researcher Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said. This step means that Syrian leadership will abandon this ideological platform and political tradition, he explained.

    The analyst also pointed to the limited use of the word Islam in the text of the draft. "Some Islamic political forces will be against this. Then comes the legal issue of how to write this into the law so that the rights of non-Muslims would not be infringed upon," he said.

    The Kurdish issue is another point of contention which Damascus will have to deal with. The Syrian Kurds, primarily the PYD and its armed wing, known as the People's Protection Units (YPG), have been empowered by their successes on the battlefield, leading to calls for greater autonomy and recognition.

    The draft of the Syrian constitution mentioned establishing the Kurdish cultural autonomy, but did not provide additional many details on the matter. According to Article 4, "government agencies and organizations of the Kurdish cultural autonomy shall use Arabic and Kurdish equally," although the document grants the status of the official language only to the former. Article 15 also entails applying the principles of decentralization, something the Kurds have championed.

    Khaled Issa said that the Kurdish cultural autonomy is a step in the right direction, but added that this was not enough.

    "Various other ethnicities whose rights have not been enshrined [in the draft constitution] live in Syria along the Kurds," he observed.

    Issa also spoke in favor of setting up the Constituent Assembly, a legislative body meant to ensure that representatives of administrative regions participate in "legislative activities and administration" of the state. This institution will help to ensure that various groups of Syrian society take part in running the country, he said.

    Issa further said that the draft needs to be reworked since it does not fully take into account national and religious aspects of the Syrian society.

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    Tags:
    draft constitution, Syrian crisis, Syrian Kurds, Syrian opposition, peace process, autonomy, decentralization, Syrian conflict, constitution, Khaled Isa, Qadri Jamil, Syria, Russia
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