The United Nations office is Geneva, Switzerland is hosting 150 delegates belonging to different factions in Syria to create a new constitution for the country. The delegates, including 50 from the government of Bashar al-Assad, 50 from the opposition parties and 50 from civil society groups, met for the first on Tuesday October 29. Eventually a smaller 45-member Constitutional Committee will start meeting from Friday November 1 to chalk out a new constitution.
The Constitutional Committee will have 15 members each from the government, the opposition and the civil society.
UN Special Envoy for Syria Gair Pederson hosted the first meeting and urged delegates to work to respect the basic principles of UN Security Council resolution 2254 adopted in 2015. The resolution talks about respective Syria’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. He emphasized that there is no external pressure on the delegates.
Foreign Ministers from Iran, Russia and Turkey were present in Geneva to meet the delegates. They also put out a joint statement in which they too emphasised on the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Syria. The foreign ministers expressed their commitment for a Syria led peaceful solution to the eight-year long war. They urged that there should be no time limit imposed on it to come out with a new constitution.
It is not clear whether the delegates will rework the constitution adopted by Bashar al-Assad government in 2012 or they will come up with a new draft. The co-chair of the official government delegation Ahmad Kuzbari said in his opening remarks that though the country already has a modern constitution the government is ready for “any possible amendments or even a new constitution that would improve the reality of our people”.
All decisions in the committee will be taken by consensus if possible. Otherwise decisions will be taken by a 75% majority.
It is also not clear whether the new constitution would be put to referendum once it is completed. Following the initial protests in March 2011 Bashar al-Assad government in Syria had constituted a committee to draft a new constitution. The new constitution was adopted after a referendum in February 2012, replacing the old one adopted in 1973.
The crucial difference between the 1973 and the 2012 constitutions is that the provision from the 1973 constitution which established the Ba’th party as the guardian of the state and proclaimed socialism as basic state policy was removed, theoretically opening the seat of the power for other political parties.
The central demands of the opposition are not clear yet. So far, they have only been vocal to Bashar al-Assad’s rule and have yet to point out any clear direction in which they want the country’s polity to move.
Hadi al-Bahra, former head of the President of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, an umbrella group of rebel and opposition parties, is the head of the delegation made of opposition forces. Al-Bahra studied in the United States and lived and worked in Saudi Arabia for several decades, involved in the commercial real estate and technological sectors.
This is the fourth such attempt to end the war in the country through dialogue. However, unlike past attempts, this time around there is common ground agreed upon by main international players in the Syrian politics, namely Russia, Turkey and Iran.
That being said, there are still significant obstacles in the path to peace including the ongoing clashes between Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army and government forces in northern Syria and exclusion of the SDF from the delegation which still controls a large territory in Syria.