The first Syrian parliamentary elections under the new constitution, passed by 90% of voters in a referendum with 57% turnout, concluded in May with seat gains for Syria’s Communist Parties. The elections had a turnout of 51% (active duty military and police were ineligible) and voters elected 250 representatives from 16 geographic constituencies. The majority of seats are reserved for category “A,” required to be workers or peasants as defined by labor laws, and the remaining representatives are elected as category “B” from the other classes.
The Communist Party of Syria (Bakdash) ran 30 candidates (13 in category A) in 15 constituencies and elected 8 (3 from category A), an increase of 3 from the previous parliament, while the Communist Party of Syria (Faisal AKA Unified) elected 3 representatives, reporting that its candidates’ individual votes amounted to 13% of the total, with the most popular candidate winning 300,000 votes. Voters voted for individual candidates but were provided with a list at the polling station called the “National Unity List” with candidates from parties in the National Progressive Front (NPF), which includes the two Communist Parties as well as the Arab Socialist Ba’ath (Renaissance) Party and 8 other parties. Only 41 of those elected were incumbents from the previous parliament, and more than 80 independents were elected.
The results announcement was delayed in some areas because of appeals filed about violations of the election law, and re-counts were conducted in some polling stations. The Communist Party of Syria (B) reported over 21 violations in Aleppo including the names of Communist candidates being crossed out from the National Unity List at one polling station. The CPS(B) filed two appeals to the Supreme Constitutional Court about these violations, one of which challenged the right of a winning candidate to be classified in category A because he was a lawyer, although a law professor.
The Communist Party of Syria (F-U) criticized the new parliament for having only 12% (30) women, whereas previously women made up 18% of the legislature, and said it would have preferred the elections to be held under better circumstances because of the violence in the country which it said limited the turnout. The CPS(F-U) criticized some parties for boycotting the election, saying that it was an inappropriate tactic based on a miscalculation that the government would fall from the boycott and criticized these parties for continuing to take positions which “hinder every effort to resolve a consensual peaceful solution to the crisis, and encourage terrorist acts and calls for foreign intervention in all candor.” The Party also criticized the process of forming the joint electoral list, which in the past included consultation between the parties in the NPF and had the Front’s name instead of “National Unity List,” but said that it expects the new parliament to be a tool for progress.
A rival coalition to the NPF called the Popular Front for Change and Liberation (PFCL) is lead by Qadri Jamil who was one of the drafters of the new constitution. Jamil was elected as an independent but leads the People’s Will Party (also the name of a 19th century Russian terrorist organization), which is the legal name of the National Committee for the Unity of Syrian Communists, formed after they were expelled from the CPS (B) under accusations of Trotskyism. The PFCL also includes a 1957 split of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (“Intifada” or uprising), whose parent party is an NPF member, as well as independent legislators including some trade unionists. The PFLC appealed election results across Syria and has called for nullifying the vote. At the opening of the first session of the new parliament Jamil rose to a point of order and led a walkout/boycott by the PFLC.
Six parties in neither the NPF or the PFCL ran 81 candidates but did not win any seats.
The first Communist to be elected in an Arab parliament was Khalid Bakdash in 1954, a Kurd who was a delegate to the Communist International (Comintern). During World War II Bakdash lead the national resistance against the Vichy French occupation of Syria. While many Communist Parties experienced splits in the 1989-1991 period of counter-revolutions in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, uniquely this division happened much earlier in Syria. In 1986 Bakdash, who was the leader of the Communist Party, criticized Gorbachev’s policies and what they meant for socialism including in Syria, and subsequently led a split from the Party as the majority of the Central Committee under Yusuf Faisal agreed with Gorbachev’s policies.
S. Saleh Waziruddin is a South Asian Canadian peace and civil rights activist raised in the Middle East. He was an activist in a US Muslim community for 12 years. He now lives in Canada, where he is a local organizer for the Communist Party and service-sector worker. A shorter form of this article appears in People’s Voice (16-30 June 2012).