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Parliament Accepts Assad Nomination

June 27, 2000

DAMASCUS, SYRIA _ Only a July 10 referendum whose result is a foregone conclusion stands between former eye doctor Bashar Assad and the Syrian presidency after the parliament approved his nomination Tuesday.

The astonishingly fast and trouble-free rise of late President Hafez Assad’s son is officially attributed to the ``democratic institutions″ founded by his father during 30 years in power in this Arab nation of 17 million. But it has more to do with the autocratic system put in place by the elder Assad.

Syria’s rubber-stamp parliament, at the end of a two-day session Tuesday, accepted Bashar Assad’s nomination for president on the recommendation of the ruling Baath party, which dominates the house. Parliament set a nationwide referendum for July 10.

If the referendum on Bashar Assad, a political novice, follows the same pattern as past ballots on his father, 99 percent of voters will approve his accession. He will be the only candidate and voters will mark ``yes″ or ``no″ on their ballots.

A Syrian official, who asked not to be named, said a date for Bashar’s swearing-in had been set for July 17.

In a country where security agencies are known to have eyes and ears everywhere, every Syrian is expected to toe the official line. Over two sessions on Monday and Tuesday, more than a 100 of the house’s 250 deputies took the floor, mostly using flowery language to praise the late Assad and his son.

Deputy Midhat Saleh said Tuesday that under the rule of the late Assad, Syria became ``the envy of the world.″ Another lawmaker, Nadia Hashem, said Bashar Assad is a ``knight, who will lead us from day to day.″

Parliament Speaker Abdul-Qader Qadoura put the nomination to a vote Tuesday by a show of hands. He paused for about a second before declaring the vote unanimous.

``The people’s assembly approves the nomination of comrade ... Bashar Assad ... for president of the Arab Republic of Syria for a constitutional presidential term of seven years,″ said Qadoura to a thunderous standing ovation from deputies who chanted, ``We sacrifice our blood and our souls for you, Bashar.″

Assad’s nomination process veered Monday from its carefully scripted course when deputy Monzir Moussali said a procedural error had been made when parliament voted June 10 to amend the constitution to lower from 40 to 34 the minimum age of a president. Bashar Assad is 34.

Moussali apologized when he was later given the floor and declared his unwavering support for Bashar Assad’s nomination.

Speaker Qadoura responded: ``Your apology is a sign of respect for this institution and a confession that you have erred.″

Also Tuesday, Amnesty International urged the new leader to release all political prisoners or grant them a fair retrial.

The human rights group says there are at least 1,500 political detainees in Syrian jails, most ``detained in secret without access to families.″

On its Web site, the rights group said that while the Syrian government had released thousands of detainees in recent years, ``prisoners are still detained in appalling conditions without trial or after grossly unfair trials.″


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