- Associated Press - Sunday, May 6, 2012

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian opposition leaders on Sunday dismissed upcoming parliamentary elections as a cynical attempt by President Bashar Assad to hold on to power and urged voters to stay away.

The regime has portrayed Monday’s vote for a 250-seat parliament as a sign of its willingness to carry out democratic reforms, while at the same time denying that it faces a popular uprising. The election comes three months after the adoption of a new constitution that allows for the formation of political parties to compete with the ruling Baath party.

But Mr. Assad’s opponents say reforms without their input are a farce and that elections cannot be held under the threat of guns. A U.N.-brokered truce last month has failed to halt a brutal regime crackdown on the 14-month-old uprising against Assad.

“We think the elections have no credibility at all in the middle of a situation where the regime is killing the population,” said Bassma Kodmani, a spokeswoman for the Syrian National Council, the main opposition group in exile. “It is an insult to the democratic process.”

Opposition leader Haytham Manna said, “We are against these elections because they don’t have any of the characteristics of free elections.” Mr. Manna heads the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria, which represents activists in Syria and in exile. Mr. Manna spoke from Brussels and Ms. Kodmani from Paris.

In Syria, anti-regime activists also said they have rejected the vote and had seen very little government preparation for elections in some opposition areas.

In the southern town of Dael, residents prevented anyone from putting up election posters and instead put up photos of the 20 people from the city who have been killed in the uprising.

“They are our candidates for parliament,” said Adel, a local activist, referring to the dead. He declined to give his full name for fear of retribution.

Another activist, Fares Mohammed in the town of Zabadani northwest of Damascus, said residents there would observe a general strike to protests the elections.

“Everyone here is refusing the elections,” he said by phone.

Since the outbreak of Syria‘s popular revolt in March 2011, the regime has made a series of gestures to try to allay the crisis, but it also has kept up its attacks on centers of rebellion. The regime claims it is being targeted by a foreign-led conspiracy of criminals and terrorists.

The United Nations says more than 9,000 people were killed in the first year of the uprising.

In February, the new constitution was approved in a referendum. At the time, Syrian state media reported a turnout of 57 percent. Such figures are impossible to verify, and opposition activists say they believe many participated out of fear. However, throughout the uprising, key constituencies have continued to support Mr. Assad.

The referendum allows, at least in theory, for the formation of new political parties and limits the president to two seven-year terms. Syria has been ruled by the Baath party since it seized power in a coup in 1963, and the Assad family has ruled since Mr. Assad’s father, Hafez, took over in another coup in 1970.

Election officials say 11 new parties are participating in Monday’s election, along with the 10 parties of the National Progressive Front, an alliance dominated by the Baath party. Election officials said nearly 15 million of Syria‘s roughly 23 million people are eligible to vote.

Story Continues →