Opposition will have to wait for 5-10 years: Speaker Mahmoud Al Abrash

Even though it is yet to announce candidates for the coming elections to the Syrian Parliament, the ruling Ba'ath Party predicts that it will return to power.

“It is mathematically impossible for any other party to win,” claims Speaker Mahmoud Al Abrash. He has figures on his side: the Ba'ath Party has 35 lakh members and the Communist Party, the second largest, has 30,000 (another Communist Party faction is reported to have 20,000 members and some more splinters have their own tiny pockets of allegiance).

The Opposition “will have to wait for five to 10 years,” says the Speaker.

While noting that armed groups had been asking people not to vote in several areas, Mr. Abrash expressed the hope that “international observers will push the rebels to keep calm during the elections.”

The rebel groups have been engaged in a bloody insurgency over the last year.

Asked if Damascus would invite international observers, Mr. Abrash said: “The Arab Parliamentary Union and the International Parliamentary Union have passed resolutions against Syria, so there is really no one to invite.” But Syria, he added, would welcome observers from India and other neutral countries. The battle for Parliament will see over 4,000 candidates contest for 250 seats, of which 170 will be limited to parties and 80 to ‘independents'. Currently, the Ba'ath Party leads a Progressive Front, which has 127 or 51 per cent of the seats. The ‘independents' solidly back the Progressive Front.

With the world community at large and the United Nations Security Council in particular fixated on Syria, this election will be different from the bland formalities that have marked previous exercises when father Hafez al-Assad and then son Bashar al-Assad controlled almost all levers of power from 1971.

One can see stray supporters of candidates, including women, moving around soliciting votes. The May 7 polls are being held as part of a package of reforms announced by Mr. Bashar al-Assad.

The parliamentary elections, held every four years, were due in 2011. But the conflict between the Syrian Army and the insurgents in some parts of the south and the north led to the postponement of the poll.

International pressure led Mr. Assad to announce a new Constitution that allows more parties to register. As a result, nine more parties have been registered.