Syria goes to polls amid deadly unrest

Arab World Materials 7 May 2012 09:47 (UTC +04:00)

Syrians are due to vote in the first parliamentary elections under a new constitution that paved the way for a multiparty system in the country Al Jazeera reported

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

Violence rocked the east of the country ahead of Monday's vote, underlining the challenge of holding a credible poll while bloodshed continues and complicating the task of UN observers monitoring a ceasefire declared on April 12.

'Media propaganda'

The vote 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.

The United Nations estimates that more than 9,000 people have been killed in violence.

Al Jazeera is unable to independently verify reports of violence, as the Syrian government has placed strict restrictions on reporting.

Security and logistical concerns notwithstanding, the credibility of the vote has also been hit by the refusal of the main opposition forces to participate.

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 hold on power of the ruling Baath party.

Nine parties have been created, and seven have candidates vying for a parliamentary seat.

Pro-government 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 UN-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 Centre for Political Studies, told the AFP news agency.

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 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.

Election 'farce'

The Syrian opposition has dismissed the vote as a sham. Bashar al-Haraki, a member of the Syrian National Council (SNC), the principal opposition coalition, has labelled the elections a "farce which can be added to the regime's masquerade".

However, local activists frustrated with the SNC, have formed the Transitional Syrian Parliament a body which they say will lead the fight to bring down the Assad government.

Basam Emadi, the former Syrian ambassador to Sweden, told Al Jazeera: "The idea of a transitional parliament is looked on with a great deal of suspicion by members of the SNC which has been widely recognised as a government in exile".

The vote also comes as UN observers are deployed in Syria to monitor a tenuous ceasefire, and as deadly violence continues to rock the country.

At least six people, including two army deserters, were killed by government forces on Sunday, the Observatory said, while the bodies of six other people were found in a mass grave in the northwestern Idlib province.

Also 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.

Government 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 government for the bloodshed.

And overnight Saturday a young man was gunned down by government troops in the town of Al-Tal, while an explosion killed two in Daf al-Shouk area, also in Damascus province, the monitoring group said.