May 7, 2012 (Alarabiya with agencies)
May 7, 2012 (Alarabiya with agencies)
Syrians will go to polls on Monday to elect a multi-party parliament that critics say will fail to bring change to the country, riven by a deadly revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.
It comes amid deadly unrest raging across the country since mid-March 2011 that has claimed more than 11,100 lives, mostly civilians, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Eleven people were killed by regime forces on Monday across the country, activists at the Syrian Sham Network reported.
As many as 18 people have been killed by Syrian forces across the country on Sunday, Al Arabiya reported citing Syrian activists at the Local Coordination Committees.
Security and logistical concerns notwithstanding, the credibility of the vote has also been hit by the refusal of the main opposition forces to participate.
Bassam Jaara, spokesman of the Syrian General Revolution Commission in Europe, descrive the polls as “nonsense” and told Al Arabiya the forthcoming elections are invalid in light of what is currently happening in the country.
Monday’s election will be the first time Syria has held multi-party elections since the adoption in February by referendum of a new constitution that ended the five-decade stranglehold on power of the ruling Baath party.
Nine parties have been created, and seven have candidates vying for a parliamentary seat.
Pro-regime parties led by the Baath are represented under a coalition called the National Progressive Front.
A total of 7,195 candidates have registered to stand for the 250 seats, state news agency SANA said.
Political specialists, however, believe the elections will not make any significant political changes in Syria, where a tenuous U.N.-backed ceasefire that came into effect April 12 has failed to take hold.
“The elections are a step in a void and will not lead to any change in the political landscape and security of Syria,” Oraib al-Rantawi, director of the Amman-based al-Quds Center for Political Studies, told AFP.
It is taking place “amid a lack of security, continued killings and violence… while (many) are detained, suffering or displaced,” Rantawi said, dismissing the elections as “media propaganda.”
But Syria’s Information Minister Adnan Mahmoud said that voting on Monday was an act of defiance.
“By taking part in the election, Syrians are defying the campaign of terrorism and aggression led by international and regional parties implicated in a terrorist war against our country,” he said in a statement.
Syrian authorities have repeatedly blamed the violence on “armed terrorist groups” and outside parties.
The Syrian opposition has dismissed the vote as a sham.
Bashar al-Haraki, a member of the Syrian National Council, the principal opposition coalition, has labeled the elections a “farce which can be added to the regime’s masquerade.”
Monday’s vote also comes as U.N. observers are deployed in Syria to monitor a tenuous ceasefire, in place since April 12, and as deadly violence continues to rock the country.
On Sunday, troops shelled rebel positions in the Arida village in central Homs province, wounding several people and destroying houses, the Britain-based group reported.
Regime forces also raided a town in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor on Sunday, making arrests.
On Saturday two bomb blasts rocked Damascus and Syria’s second city Aleppo, where at least five people were killed, the Observatory said as the opposition blamed the regime for the bloodshed.
Assad still being supported
Unlike autocratic leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen who were toppled by the Arab Spring, Assad has kept enough support among the military and his Alawite sect, which dominates the army and security apparatus, to withstand the revolt.
Since succeeding his father President Hafez al-Assad in 2000, Assad has relied on a pliant parliament to rubber-stamp the will of the ruling family in the majority Sunni Muslim country.
The assembly currently does not have a single opposition member and official media said half the seats would be reserved for “representatives of workers and peasants,” whose unions are controlled by Assad’s Baath Party, according to Reuters.
Election posters, mostly of staunchly pro-Assad candidates, hung in central Damascus and regions where Assad still retains strong authority, but there were fewer in outlying areas that form the bedrock of the revolt.
Louay Hussein a centrist activist who heads the Movement for Building a State, said the elections were “window-dressing” and would not shift the balance of power in Syria.
“It does not matter who votes. It is a forged election against the will of Syrians with no popular participation. The Syrian parliament has no authority over a single intelligence officer … It has no power in the country at all,” he added.
In central districts of Damascus, pictures of candidates were displayed in the streets, including businessmen, filmmakers, and presenters on government television.
“What happened last year has made people realize that we really need a real parliament that will be a direct channel … and has an effective role in building a new stage,” said Maria Saadeh, an engineer who is running for a Damascus seat.
Independent politician Qadri Jameel said he was running “because we believe we can turn the election into a starting point of a political process, and to decrease the level of violence so as to reach dialogue.”
Bassam Ishaq, who unsuccessfully ran for parliament in 2003 and 2007 and fled the country last year, said the vote would change little.
“Syria’s political system remains utterly corrupt and election results will be again determined in advance,” he said. “There are effectively very few seats for independents, and these will go to the highest bidder.”
Interior Minister Mohammad Nidal al-Shaar toured the northern city of Aleppo on Sunday, and declared Syria’s commercial and industrial hub was ready for the vote.
The authorities say there are 14 million eligible voters, including expatriates, and 7,195 candidates.
In the Sunni Muslim town of Madaya, a rural center of the revolt 30 km (20 miles) north of Damascus, there was no sign of an election campaign. In the nearby town of Zabadani, there were a few pictures of one candidate.