Syria holds legislative vote, snubbed by opposition

AFP , Monday 7 May 2012

Polling stations open in Syria for the first "multiparty" parliamentary elections in five decades, being held against a backdrop of violence and dismissed as a sham by the opposition

Demonstrators take part in a protest against Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad in Kafranbel, near Idlib May 1, 2012. The placard reads, "Only in Syria the death lives, and the world conscience dies". (Photo: Reuters)

Syrians were voting on Monday in the first "multiparty" parliamentary elections in five decades, being held against a backdrop of violence and dismissed as a sham by the opposition.

Voting began at 7:00 am (0400 GMT) across Syria, which has been swept by raging unrest since March last year, when President Bashar al-Assad resorted to force in a bid to quash a revolt against his autocratic regime.

The vote, initially scheduled for September 2011, was postponed to May 7 after Assad announced the launch of a reform process.

"I am voting because I support the reforms, but the new parliament needs to tackle unemployment as a priority so that young Syrians don't emigrate," said Shahba Karim, 18, after casting her vote in central Damascus.

"I think these elections will bring a definitive end to the crisis."

Outside the polling station, voters were handed flyers in support of the various candidates.

"These elections must be credible and people must participate to show they are concerned by the crisis gripping the country because that is the only way we will find a solution," said Laith al-Allaj, a 22-year-old university student.

A total of 7,195 candidates have registered to stand for the 250 seats, state news agency SANA said.

The opposition has dismissed the vote as a sham and a ploy by the government to buy time and to dupe the international community into believing the regime is serious about reforms.

"Whoever drowns Syria in blood, displaces two million Syrians and shoots at the Syrian people, does not have the legitimacy to draw up a constitution, an electoral law, or to run elections," the Syrian National Council, an exile umbrella opposition organisation, said in a statement

SNC member Bashar al-Haraki had earlier labelled the elections a "farce which can be added to the regime's masquerade."

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, more than 11,100 people have died in the violence, mostly civilians.

Monday's election will be the first time Syria has held multiparty 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.

Information Minister Adnan Mahmud said at the weekend that by voting, Syrians would be casting a ballot against "terrorism."

"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.

Political specialists, however, believe the elections will not make any significant changes in Syria, where a tenuous UN-backed ceasefire that came into effect April 12 has failed to take hold.

More than 600 people have died since the truce began, according to Britain-based Observatory.

UN observers deployed in the country to monitor the truce have reported violations on both sides of the crisis.

The 12,000 polling stations are due to close at 10:00 pm (19H00 GMT).

Washington has described the election as "ridiculous."

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