The Constitution provides for a governmental system that, in appearance, is divided into three mutually checking branches, the executive, the legislative, and the judicial. In practice, neither the legislature nor the judiciary has been independent of the executive.
The Revolutionary Command Council
In 1988 the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) continued to be the top decision-making body of the state. The RCC was first formed in July 1968, and since then it has exercised both executive and legislative powers. The chairman of the RCC is the president of the republic. The number of RCC members has varied over time; in 1988 there were ten members.
According to the Constitution, the RCC is the supreme organ of the state, charged with the mission of carrying out the popular will by removing from power the reactionary, the dictatorial, and the corrupt elements of society and by returning power to the people. The RCC elects its chairman, who serves concurrently as president of the republic, by a two-thirds majority vote. In case of the chairman's official absence or incapacitation, his constitutional powers are to be exercised by the vice chairman, who also is elected by the RCC from among its members. Thus the vice chairman (in 1988 Izzat Ibrahim, who had served since 1979) is first in line of succession.
The members of the RCC, including both the chairman and the vice chairman, are answerable only to the RCC itself, which may dismiss any of its members by a two-thirds majority vote and may also charge and send to trial for wrongdoing any member of the council, any deputy to the president, or any cabinet minister. Since 1977 the Baath Party has regarded all members of the Baath Party Regional Command as members of the RCC. The interlocking leadership structure of the RCC and the Regional Command has served to emphasize the party's dominance in governmental affairs.
The RCC's constitutional powers are wide ranging. It may perform legislative functions, both in collaboration with, and independently of, the National Assembly; approve government recommendations concerning national defense and internal security; declare war, order general mobilization, conclude peace, and ratify treaties and international agreements; approve the state's general budget; lay down the rules for impeachment of its members and set up the special court to try those impeached; authorize the chairman or the vice chairman to exercise some of the council's powers except for legislative ones; and provide the internal regulations and working procedures of the council. The chairman is specifically empowered to preside over the council's closed sessions, to sign all laws and decrees issued by the council, and to supervise the work of cabinet ministers and the operation of the institutions of the state.
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