Representatives of the Syrian opposition rejected the new constitution plan presented by delegates at the Sochi conference on January 30.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called the peace conference in the resort town of Sochi, which hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics. At the conference, delegates established a plan to draft a new Syrian constitution. They agreed to set-up a commission consisting of both government and opposition representatives to rewrite the constitution. The delegates also discussed constitutional reforms and the possibility of future elections.
The 1,393 delegates at the conference included members of the Syrian regime and select opposition members. The Damascus-based opposition delegates were approved by security forces and given strict orders on how to act during the conference.
Key opposition and rebel groups, however, boycotted the conference. The Syrian Negotiations Commission is the main opposition umbrella group and did not attend the conference. Major powers, including the United States, did not attend the conference because of the Syrian government’s refusal to engage properly.
Following the rejection of the proposal, Nasr Hariri, head of the Syrian Negotiations Commission, held a press conference in Istanbul on February 1 to address the results of the conference. He asserted that future talks must be held in an safe and neutral environment to ensure the free will of the participants. He also claimed that the Sochi conference did not represent the interests of all the Syrian people since key opposition group representatives were absent from the talks. Hariri would cooperate with the proposals if the process remained under the auspices of the UN.
“We cannot describe what happened during the Sochi conference,” said Mohamed Maktabi, the secretary of the Syrian Coalition Political Committee, “but…it did not meet the minimum standards set by the United Nations for democracy and the people’s right to freely express themselves.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov addressed accusations that the conference was not representative of the Syrian people by saying, “No one expected that it would be possible to bring together representatives of all groups of Syrians without exclusion. There is no big tragedy that two or three groups weren’t able to attend.”
The main disagreement between the parties is the opposition’s demand that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad play no role in the political transition. Russia, however, remains the principal supporter of the Assad regime, and the fate of Al-Assad was not resolved in the Sochi constitution plan.
Analysts say that without the participation of key opposition groups in large numbers, the Sochi agreement will not achieve the desired result of ending the civil war in Syria.