- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 15, 2003

DAMASCUS, Syria, Jan. 15 (UPI) — Syria will hold legislative elections to choose a new 250-member parliament for another four-year term, a decree from President Bashar Assad said Wednesday.

Elections to the People's Council were fixed for March 2 and the decree specified that 127 seats would be for representatives of workers and peasants. The remaining 123 seats are for "other categories of the people."

Well-informed sources said the election of a new People's Council was expected to be followed by the formation of a new Cabinet. The present government was formed by Prime Minister Mustafa Miro at the end of 2001. It was Miro's second Cabinet.

The list of the National Progressive Front, which is made up by the ruling Baath Party and eight other political groups, usually wins the elections with its 167 candidates, thus securing two-thirds of the seats.

The sources said the Baath Party "has tightened its conditions for this year's candidacy" by requiring that the candidate to the elections be "a member of the party for more than 13 years" and all the Front's candidates be "holders of a university degree."

They said the instructions of the party command emphasized the "educational level, competence, command ability and good reputation" with the aim of "raising the level of party members in effective posts."

The candidates, especially businessmen and merchants who want to contest as independents, are likely to spend substantially on banners, publications and other campaign materials. Most independents favor the Baath Party, however.

The outgoing parliament, which was elected in 1998, witnessed an increase in the percentage of members below the age of 50, and analysts predicted the trend will continue. Current young members number 119 — including 13 below the age of 35 — compared to 51 in the previous People's Council.

Assad and his government encouraged the increase to secure "young blood." Assad assumed the presidency from his father in 2000, when he was 34.

The number of female parliamentarians also increased to 26, or 10.5 percent representation.

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