Hafez Assad's Son Consolidates Power

The Florida Times Union, June 12, 2000 | Go to article overview

Hafez Assad's Son Consolidates Power


DAMASCUS, Syria -- Bashar Assad, son of the late Syrian leader, was appointed commander of the armed forces yesterday, another indication he will succeed his father as president in a country where most people have known no other ruler.

President Hafez Assad, who died Saturday, was the previous commander. The ruling Baath Party also unanimously nominated Bashar Assad as the only candidate for president.

In anointing Bashar Assad, the hierarchy is opting for a smooth, stable transition -- instead of the uncertainty and violence that characterized power changes in Syria before Hafez Assad took over in a bloodless coup in 1970. Hafez Assad's strong-willed, strong-arm stewardship ended a series of coups that followed independence from France in 1946.

It remains to be seen whether Bashar Assad, who has held no major political office, will be tough and canny enough to hold onto the power he is inheriting. But the British-educated eye doctor was a favorite with ordinary Syrians, many of whom seemed incapable of imagining their country without an Assad at the helm.

Abdel-Halim Khaddam, one of two vice presidents, declared as law yesterday a constitutional change that parliament made Saturday, lowering the minimum age for president from 40 to 34. Bashar is 34.

It had long been clear Hafez Assad was grooming his son to rule after him. The political apparatus the autocratic Assad, 69, left behind began preparing to carry out those wishes soon after he died.

All that is left is for the rubber-stamp parliament, which is scheduled to meet June 25, to approve the nomination and for elections to be held. Hafez Assad routinely ran as the only candidate in presidential elections, and just as routinely recorded "yes" votes of close to 100 percent.

"We have full confidence in Bashar because he's the only one who can carry his father's torch, and the Syrian people don't want anyone else," said Kawkab Fares, a 24-year-old civil servant who joined crowds yesterday at the Damascus hospital where Assad's body was believed being kept until his funeral tomorrow.

"Bashar, we are with you!" the crowd chanted.

Syrian workers in Lebanon thronged to Syrian military bases and offices yesterday to receive condolences. Syria deploys 30,000 soldiers there. …

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