The Free Syrian revolution erupted in 2011 as a popular uprising against injustice and tyranny, calling for democratic governance, an end to poverty and corruption, and protesting the absence of social, economic and political justice.
With the regime resorting to brutality against peaceful demonstrations, it became necessary for the revolutionary popular forces to create a framework within an opposition body that can lead political action and organize opposition activity internally and externally, provided that this body is based on popular representation - or the minimum possible popular representation - to ensure strong support for the revolutionary movement, and to achieve the goals of the revolution by moving toward democracy and pluralism.
Unfortunately, Syrian opposition forces have not yet succeeded in establishing a national opposition that can create a framework to organize the opposition's political activity. Additionally, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces have been tainted with the greatest number of political sins, in terms of formation and opposition activity - from political hegemony to monopolizing the decision-making process, bullying by regional and international powers, and shying away from professionalism, competence and institutional work. "Institutional opposition" has, unfortunately, resulted in weakening opposition activity instead of supporting it. It has also minimized the revolutionary forces in favor of a national institutional opposition capable of performing the political tasks entrusted to it, especially in terms of proposing an institutional democratic system to replace crime and corruption.
Although the current coalition initiative has arrived several years after initial demands for political reform were first made by several political powers who sought institutional, and operational reformation, and improved political performance, the Liberal Party welcomes this initiative, and views it as an opportunity to launch the political establishment process. In this light, and in an effort to deal positively with the coalition's call, the Liberal Party presents herein the steps which it deems necessary to achieve the required reform in the coalition in both form and function, toward optimizing opposition activity and performance in general. This can be done by establishing a strong, professional and competent institutional structure based on sound foundations that provide a framework for its operations, and strengthens the relationship between all political opposition forces, on the one hand, and between the opposition forces and regional and international actors influencing the Syrian file on the other, in order to create an environment of mutual respect and shared interests, and an opportunity to place national decision making in the hands of the Syrians.
Based on the foregoing, reforming Syrian opposition and improving its political performance requires interconnected foundational reform. This reform needs to go beyond reforming the coalition as a structure or organization. Rather, it extends to establishing a democratic model that serves as an alternative to political, religious, economic and social tyranny.
First: Establishment Steps
The coalition's initiative calls for a conference that includes the widest possible representation of Syrian political and social forces. This will be done on the basis of one representative for each political or social force, and other criteria to be agreed upon and announced in advance. The aim is to set the criteria for selecting the political forces that will be invited to the establishment conference, including selection criteria for independents.
In accordance with the agreed criteria, the political forces shall be invited to hold an establishment conference to formulate the constitutional rules, tantamount to a constitutional declaration or an interim constitution, within a period not exceeding three months from the date of its first meeting. These constitutional rules shall regulate all opposition activity that falls under its control.
We, the Liberal Party, believe that agreement should be reached concerning the establishment rules, to ensure that the intended conference will have clear objectives, within an inclusive national framework, and that it will be able to identify the democratic tools for the work ahead. We believe the following principles are necessary for the relaunch of the establishment phase of the opposition:
- General Principles
- Syria is the final homeland for all of its citizens, residents and expatriates, and they shall all enjoy equal citizenship rights without discrimination, whether based on origin, color, sex, language, ethnicity, political opinion, religion or sect. These rights shall be based on a comprehensive national accord, where individuals and societies shall enjoy legal and constitutional protection.
- Relationships between the people of the same nation shall be centered on the people themselves, and they shall be based on the commitment to international covenants, human rights charters, and political, social and economic rights, which are cherished by all of humanity. These rights shall be guaranteed for citizens and residents alike.
- Syria is one single political entity. It enjoys the sovereignty arising from the will of all Syrians to coexist on its land. It is not permissible to relinquish a single inch of Syrian land, including the occupied Golan. Syrians have the right to fight for the return of the occupied Golan by whatever means available.
- Individual, public and collective freedoms form the basis of the relationship between the people of Syria. Any future constitution, whether interim or permanent, must guarantee the protection of public freedoms, including freedom of information and access to media, freedom to establish civil society organizations, associations, unions and political parties, freedom of belief and ritual practice, and the freedom to demonstrate and strike peacefully. Rules must be established to safeguard these freedoms from falling under financial or political control. Societal diversity, along with the beliefs, interests, and specificities of all Syrian sects, shall be respected, and the cultural and political rights, of all Syrian groups, and aspirations to develop and to receive protection, shall be recognized.
- Freedom of belief is fully protected. No one may impose a religion or belief on anyone else, and no one may prevent anyone else from choosing their own beliefs and practicing the same.
- The Syrian people are the source of legitimacy and sovereignty, which is achieved through a republican, democratic, pluralistic system which is based on institutions, and in which the law prevails. Government institutions shall be based on periodic elections, the complete separation of executive, legislative and judicial powers, the principle of rotation in office through secret and free elections, and respect for election results - whatever they may be - as decided by the ballot box. They shall also ensure the right of civil organizations and civil actors to observe elections, and they shall contribute to strengthening the principles of societal accountability.
- The constitution, or the constitutional principles to be adopted, shall guarantee the foundations of a pluralistic, secular democratic system, and a modern and fair electoral system that guarantees the right to political participation for all intellectual and political currents within rules that ensure the broadest representation of the people, guarantee the stability of the political system, and carefully controls financial resources, and spending by political parties and groups, in order to secure justice and equal opportunities.
- All citizens shall have the right to occupy any state position, including President of the Republic, regardless of religion, ethnicity, or sex.
- Women and men are equals. No gains in women's rights may be undone. The interim constitution guarantees the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, and seeks to create the legislative and legal environment that secures women's political, economic and social empowerment in accordance with all relevant international conventions and in harmony with the societal culture.
- The interim constitution shall clarify, in unambiguous texts, the foundations for rebuilding the Syrian army based on national bases. It shall guarantee that the army shall not interfere in political life whatever the circumstances.
- Decentralization shall be adopted as a system to enable and reinforce democratic practice, and as a basis for the preparation and adaptation of economic and development policies that will empower elected local government authorities and allow it to supersede appointed authorities. Local communities shall be given the freedom to adopt their own administrative system and appointees according to the will of their constituents.
- The adopted decentralization shall ensure distribution of powers between regional authorities and the central authority in a manner that prevents regional and central tyranny. The interim constitution shall also unequivocally clarify the details of the distribution of powers and rights between the center and the different administrative regions. This shall depend on the function of each state position, be it service or sovereign, with the load of the former being in the hands of the localities, and the load of the latter being in the hands of the center, with the possibility of delegating some state positions to local administrations depending on their nature.
- Constitutional priority shall be given to the formulation of public policies that empower and support local communities so they may articulate and implement their own policies on the living affairs and the provision of services to their constituents.
- The interim constitution shall guarantee that public policies aim to achieve justice in national wealth distribution, as well as balanced development, environmental protection, and secure basic services for all citizens: housing, urban planning, clean drinking water, sanitation, electricity, telephone and internet, roads and public transport, education, and qualification and vocational training.
- The interim constitution shall guarantee and protect the right to private property. It is not permissible to seize or confiscate the same except for public benefit within the law and in return for fair compensation, and it shall not be relegated to private interests. The interim constitution shall also guarantee the return of private properties that were confiscated by the various de facto powers to their owners, or to offer fair compensation if the confiscation was for public interest.
- The interim constitution shall guarantee that public money and property shall be protected and used for the benefit of citizens. Financial and economic policies shall be adopted to achieve social justice and balanced sustainable development. This shall be done by redistributing income and wealth through the tax system in an equitable manner between social groups and regions. The interim constitution shall also guarantee freedom of investment, economic initiatives, equal opportunities and markets, within controls that combat monopoly and speculation and protects the rights of workers and consumers.
- The interim constitution shall be committed to the eradication of poverty, and the adoption of social policies to guarantee a basic income for every citizen of legal age, and financial independence for all citizens without discrimination, and explicitly states citizens right to obtain comprehensive health insurance in proportion to their income so as to reduce the economic burden on low income families.
- Direct popular elections shall be adopted, and they shall be based on the party-list proportional representation systems, treating Syria as a single electoral district, in order to select all provisional parliament members or as many of them as is possible, provided that elections are held within a period not exceeding six months from the date of the declaring of the interim constitution.
- Separating the Powers and Functions of Political Institutions:
- The Legislative Authority: Once the interim constitution is adopted and declared, we are faced with two possibilities to pursue the establishment steps, specifically in terms of forming an interim parliament. These two possibilities are:
First: To head directly toward elections. The Liberal Party considers this option to be optimal. The Establishment Conference elects or appoints a higher election committee whose task is to conduct elections according to the proportional system by adopting closed lists, treating Syria as one electoral district, so that the elected members form the legislative authority.
Second: Transforming the National Congress which adopted the interim constitution, or the coalition itself, into a parliament after modifying membership and structure criteria in line with the following conditions:
- Parliament members shall not exceed one hundred and shall not be less than fifty.
- There be parity between women and men.
- The membership mandate shall be set to six calendar years, on the condition that one third of parliament members are renewed every two years, and that the remaining two thirds are selected by lot, taking into consideration other selection criteria, e.g. the number of years of previous membership in opposition institutions such as the National Council and the coalition.
- The Executive Authority: An interim government shall be formed according to the constitutional declaration or the adopted interim constitution, taking into account the following:
- The political forces shall, jointly or separately, present a list of candidates for the presidency and membership of the interim government. This shall be accompanied by a clear working agenda outlining action to be taken in the event that they receive executive authority, provided that said agenda includes policies to be adopted – e.g. draft laws, estimated implementation budget, and a clear timetable, that facilitates oversight and accountability. Any agendas not meeting above mentioned criteria shall be disregarded.
- The agenda shall be selected by provisional parliament member consensus, which will also select the head of the executive branch. If consensus is not possible, then elections shall take place.
- Once the agenda is selected, whether by consensus or election, it shall be tantamount to granting full confidence by the legislative authority. Not only for the head of the executive authority, but also for its members.
- The executive authority shall begin its work immediately after the selection or election session. The constitutional rules adopted in the interim constitution shall define the mechanisms for its accountability or removal.
- The Judicial Authority: The judiciary authority shall enjoy full independence from the legislative and executive authorities. Work is being done in the articles of the interim constitution to ensure its independence, provided that the Supreme Judicial Council is established as the head of the judicial hierarchy as follows:
- The coalition, on its own initiative, shall call on all dissident judges, or as many of them as possible, to meet physically or virtually in order to form a general assembly of judges and set its bylaws within a period not exceeding three months from its first meeting, provided that said call coincides with the beginning of the proceedings of the founding conference.
- Once it is declared and its bylaws adopted, the General Assembly of Judges shall represent the Syrian judicial body. It shall endeavor to protect its independence, and it shall propose the necessary laws to guarantee immunity for all judges, as well accountability and trial mechanisms. It shall also determine the nature of its relationship with the Ministry of Justice.
- Once the General Assembly of Judges is established, and its establishing laws are adopted by the interim legislative authority, the Supreme Judicial Council shall be formed of nine members with integrity, independence and at least ten years’ experience in the field of the higher judiciary, provided they are selected according to the following mechanism:
- Three members to be elected by the legislative branch.
- Three members to be appointed by the executive branch.
- Three members to be elected by the General Assembly of Judges.
- The Supreme Judicial Council shall temporarily replace the Supreme Constitutional Court, and it shall exercise its powers pending the adoption of a permanent constitution
- A joint committee shall be formed from the Supreme Judicial Council and the Ministry of Justice. Its task shall be to draft the Judicial Independence Bill within a maximum of three months. This shall be submitted to the legislative authority for adoption, provided that the bill includes the final rules for the formation of the Supreme Judicial Council, membership conditions, election mechanisms, mandate limitations, means of accountability and trial of its members, etc.
Second: Practical Steps
In conjunction with the adoption of the interim constitution in accordance with the above criteria, and once the legislative, executive and judicial authorities commence their work in accordance with their mandates as designated by the constitution or the interim constitutional declaration, the following interim goals shall be achieved:
- Confirm the dissolution of all opposition bodies, including the coalition and the negotiating body, as soon as the new bodies commence their work. The emerging new institutions shall be considered the political alternative to the previous institutions.
- Obtain international recognition of the emerging new bodies, and to challenge the regime and win international representation.
- Launch a legislative workshop to adopt the laws necessary for the functioning of the three authorities, and other priority laws, e.g. the Local Administration Law, the Judicial Independence Law, and the Military and Security Sector Reform Law, as well as disarmament, demobilization and reintegration mechanisms.
- Complete the establishment tasks by approving nomination and election mechanisms, and holding elections in regions where they were not previously held, whether in the diaspora or at home.
- Confirm judiciary independence and launch a national transitional justice mechanism.