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Syrian opposition to choose rebel PM

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

A former agriculture minister and an economist are leading candidates to be named Syria's first rebel prime minister when the opposition Syrian National Coalition meets to vote in Turkey this week.

The two men are among around 10 opposition figures Coalition members are expected to consider during their gathering in Istanbul on March 18 and 19.

The list includes virtual unknowns, as well as some prominent members of the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad's regime, with former agriculture minister Asaad Mustapha and economist Osama Kadi believed to be leading the pack.

In moving to select a rebel premier, who will choose a cabinet to be approved by the Coalition, the opposition is hoping to show it can administer large swathes of captured territory where there is now a power vacuum.

"There is a real need in the liberated areas for better administration of daily life," Damascus-based activist Matar Ismail told AFP.

"There should be a civilian authority that acts as an alternative power to the Assad government."

Opposition members said they wanted a good administrator with long-standing ties to the uprising, although nations backing the rebels, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, are also likely to influence the choice.

"The prime minister must be a man who is completely with the revolution, and it is better that it be someone who was in Syria until recently, not someone who has lived abroad for a long time," opposition figure Haytham al-Maleh said.

"The next prime minister won't be chosen on the basis of whose name is most circulated in the media, but on the basis of who is best able to lead a government that takes care of the Syrian people and addresses their most pressing needs," added Ahmed Ramadan, a member of the Syrian National Coalition.

Kadi, born in Aleppo in 1968, is founder of the Syrian Centre for Political and Strategic Studies in Washington and favoured for his technocratic background.

Mustapha, born in Idlib in 1947, brings experience as a minister under Syria's former president Hafez al-Assad for eight years.

"If what's wanted is a technocrat then perhaps Osama Kadi will win. And if the choice is based on who has experience and is the most capable politically, it will be Asaad Mustapha," Ramadan told AFP.

"The latter has good experience... and he has been close to the revolution from its beginning and is respected."

At least one potential candidate, Christian dissident Michel Kilo, has already made clear he will not be standing, and neither former Syrian National Council head Burhan Ghalioun nor defected ex-premier Riad Hijab appear on the current list.

Ramadan said the Coalition was expected to hold an initial vote, followed by a run-off between the top two candidates.

"It would be good if there is consensus on one name, but if not it will be decided in a democratic fashion."

The decision to name a prime minister and form an interim government is opposed by some opposition figures, who favour the creation of an executive body with limited powers to administer rebel-held territory.

Council members speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity said those opposed to creating an interim government want dialogue with the regime and the formation of a government composed of regime and opposition members.

That is believed to be Washington's preference, although Turkey and much of the Arab League favour an interim government.

For opposition supporters on the ground, the vote is an important opportunity to create a real alternative to the Assad government.

"An interim government will also bring the exiled opposition into direct contact with the people. So even if we haven't elected them, we can hold them accountable for their errors. Overall, I am hopeful," Ismail said.

bur-sah/srm

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130317/syrian-opposition-choose-rebel-pm