The Constitution of 1973 provides for a republican form of government and stipulates that the people are the ultimate source of national sovereignty. Power is divided into the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The President of the Republic has executive as well as some legislative powers. Legislative authority, however, is entrusted mainly to the People's Assembly.
The President, proposed by the Ba’th (Arab Socialist Resurrection) Party and then nominated by the People's Assembly, is voted into office by national referendum to serve a seven-year term. He may delegate his powers, at his sole discretion, to his vice presidents.
The President is the Head of State, the chief executive, and the secretary of the ruling Ba’th Party. He appoints and dismisses the vice presidents, the prime minister, deputy prime ministers, other members of the Council of Ministers (the cabinet), and top civil servants and military officers. The Council of Ministers, headed by the prime minister, is responsible to the president.
The President of the Republic is the commander in chief of the armed forces and can declare war. He promulgates the laws approved by the People's Assembly. He may veto these laws, giving the reasons for his objection within a month after their receipt. If the Assembly again approves them by a two-thirds majority, the president of the republic has to issue them. However, he has the right to dissolve the People's Assembly, in which case a new Assembly must be elected within 90 days from the date of dissolution. He may not do so twice for the same reason.
The President of the Republic assumes legislative authority when the People's Assembly is not in session, provided that all the legislation issued by him is referred to the People's Assembly in its first session. The President can assume legislative authority even when the Assembly is in session in order to safeguard the country's national interest “in case of absolute need relating to national security.” All presidential decrees, however, must be presented to the legislature for their endorsement. The Assembly may, by a two-thirds vote, amend or rescind presidential decrees, provided that the two-thirds majority constitutes no less than the absolute majority of the Assembly membership.
The President cannot be removed from power except for high treason. Impeachment proceedings may be initiated through a petition signed by one-third of the members of the People's Assembly voting openly or by a petition of two-thirds of the Assembly members voting at a special closed session. The President can be tried only by the Supreme Constitutional Court, of which he is a member.
Article 113 of the constitution grants the President broad emergency powers and those powers have been in effect in Syria since the 1963. The President of the Republic can call for national referenda. The results of the referenda are binding and effective on the date of their promulgation by the President. He can form specialized organizations, councils, and committees.
By Article 8 of the Constitution, the Arab Ba’th Socialist Party is the leading party in the state and society and heads the National Progressive Front. The President of the Republic is chairman of the Front as well as Secretary General of the Ba’th Party. The Front decides on matters of war and peace. It approves the five-year plans of the state, discusses the economic policy, lays down the plans for a national, socialist education, and determines the state’s general political orientation.
Articles 9 and 10 of the constitution discuss popular organizations, cooperative associations, and people’s councils as institutions through which the citizens exercise their rights in administering the state and leading the society. Freedom is described as a sacred right and the supremacy of law as a fundamental principle. The state respects all religions provided they do not disturb the public order.
The state insures the principles of equality before law and equal opportunities for citizens. The rights of litigation, contest, defense, and protection against torture are safeguarded. Work is a right and duty. The state provides work for all citizens, fixes working hours, guarantees social security, and regulates rest, leave, compensations, and rewards for workers. Education is also a right guaranteed by the state. The purpose of the educational system is described as creation of “an Arab national socialist generation with scientific training.” The constitution sets forth a planned socialist economy that recognizes public, collective, and private property, but private property is subordinated to public interest.
The state guarantees freedom of expression and the press in accordance with the law. Citizens have the right to meet and demonstrate peacefully within the principles of the constitution. The state guarantees women all opportunities and removes the restrictions that prevent their development and participation in society.
The Supreme Constitutional Court decides on the constitutionality of laws and draft decrees when the president or one-quarter of the People's Assembly members challenge the constitutionality of a law. However, the Court has no right to review laws that the president of the republic submits to public referendum.
Constitutional Amendments and Procedures
A bill to amend the constitution may be introduced by the president or one-third of the members of the parliament, but its passage requires approval by a majority of three-fourths of the parliament as well as by the president. The provisional constitution of 1969 was amended twice in 1971 and then again in 1973. The most recent amendment came in 2000, when the minimum age of the president was reduced from 40 to 34 in order to allow Bashar al-Assad to stand as a candidate in the presidential elections after his father’s death.
Syria is a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).