[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Thursday, 19 April 2007, 13:50 GMT 14:50 UK
Q&A: Syrian election
Poster portrait of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and other campaign material
Elections are unlikely to provide a change at the top

Syrians go to the polls on 22 April to elect members of the People's Assembly, or parliament.

In a referendum due to be held later this summer Bashar al-Assad is expected to be endorsed as president for his second seven-year term.

These will be the second parliamentary elections since Mr Assad assumed power in July 2000.

What are the chances of a change of leadership?

Few. The current president succeeded his father who came to power in 1970 and ruled until he died in 2000.

Change via the ballot box is not currently an option.

Political discussion, let alone organised opposition, is restricted and the media is tightly controlled.

What parties are permitted?

The Syrian constitution designates the Baath Party as the "leading party in the state and society".

The only other legal parties are the members of the National Progressive Front (NPF) - an alliance of nationalist and left-wing supporters of the government.

What will people be voting for?

They will be choosing the 250 members of parliament who will be serving a four-year term. Of the 250 seats, 167 are reserved for the National Progressive Front which is dominated by the Baath Party.

The remaining 83 are for independents.

What does the assembly do?

Syria watchers say it only has the power to rubberstamp presidential decrees and legislation drawn up by the government, and therefore merely provides Syria with a thin veneer of democracy.

What is the opposition saying?

Businessman and former independent MP Riad Seif, who is known for his outspoken views and who was released from prison last year, said proper elections cannot be held under a state of emergency that has been in place for 44 years.

Opposition activists outside the country have been advocating a boycott, describing the polls as mere window dressing.

Didn't the president promise reform when he came to power?

Yes, he vowed to modernize the economy, fight corruption and launch what he called "our own democratic experience".

But he made clear he had no intention of breaking completely with the past and he also rejected Western-style democracy.

His first few months in office coincided with the "Damascus Spring" during which political debate started to flourish. But a crackdown soon followed.

Currently, the government takes a hard line with internal dissent. Several figures in the domestic opposition are currently in prison or facing legal action for their political activities.

What are the chances of reform?

Observers argue that with regional instability so pronounced, Bashar al-Assad's administration considers that now is not the time to experiment with political change.

Powerful elements of the Syrian ruling elite also have a strong vested interest in preserving the status quo.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.




SEE ALSO
Country profile: Syria
22 Jan 07 |  Country profiles
Syria fails reforms challenge
09 Jun 05 |  Middle East
Discovering Syria's red lines
16 May 05 |  Middle East
Syria at reform crossroads
01 Apr 05 |  Middle East

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific