8 May 2012Syrians cast ballots yesterday in parliamentary elections billed by the regime as key to President Bashar al-Assad’s political reforms, but the opposition dismissed the vote as a sham meant to preserve his autocratic rule.
A total of 7,195 candidates from 12 parties have registered to stand for the 250 seats in a country of almost 15 million eligible voters out of a population of 24 million, state news agency SANA said. The election marked the first time Syria has held a multiparty vote since the adoption in February by referendum of a new constitution.
The charter for the first time allows the formation of political parties to compete with al-Assad’s ruling Baath party and limits the president to two seven-year terms. However, 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 al-Assad’s Baath Party.
‘Election Against Terrorism’
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. Information Minister Adnan Mahmud said at the weekend that by voting, Syrians would be casting a ballot against “terrorism.”
In recent weeks, candidates’ photographs and banners have adorned the capital, Damascus, in what regime supporters say is a sign of burgeoning reform in a country ruled by a single family for more than four decades.
But critics are deeply skeptical, saying the vote and the candidates have been orchestrated by the government. The opposition has called the elections a farce and said it will accept nothing short of the fall of al-Assad’s regime. “The face of the regime will not change,” the Associated Press quoted activist Mousab Alhamadee as speaking on Skype from the central city of Hama.
“The regime is like a very old woman, a woman in her 70s, trying to put on makeup.” The parliament is not considered an influential body in Syria, where the real power is concentrated around al-Assad and a tight coterie of family and advisers.
Meanwhile, seven civilians were killed by regime forces across Syria yesterday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. Two died from regime gunfire in northwest Idlib province, and another two were killed by sniper fire in the central provinces of Hama and Homs, the Britain-based watchdog said. In the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, three young men were killed in a dawn ambush by regime forces, the group added.