DAMASCUS, Syria — Syrians voted in parliamentary elections Monday that the government praised as a milestone in promised political reforms, but the opposition boycotted the polls and said they were designed to strengthen President Bashar Assad’s grip on power.
The fact the regime and the opposition are pushing such wildly divergent views is a sign of the chasm separating the two sides, more than a year into a conflict that has killed more than 9,000 people and raised fears of a regional conflagration.
World powers have been unable to stop the bloodshed, and the Assad regime has largely ignored demands by special envoy Kofi Annan to withdraw its military. A truce that was scheduled to begin April 12 has never really taken hold.
There were scattered reports of violence Monday, including witness accounts that security forces launched deadly attacks on villages in central Syria where opposition supporters were refusing to vote. The reports could not be independently confirmed.
The election for the 250-member parliament is unlikely to change the trajectory of the revolt in Syria, which has become a grim cycle of crackdown and reprisal. Parliament is considered a rubber stamp in a country where the president holds the real power.
“It is not really possible to hold credible elections in a climate where basic human rights are being denied to the citizens and the government is continuing to carry out daily assaults on its own citizens,” he said.
Asked whether U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had any comment on the vote, his spokesman Martin Nesirky said: “Only a comprehensive and inclusive political dialogue can lead to a genuine democratic future in Syria. These elections are not taking place within that framework. Moreover, a democratic process cannot be successful while violence is still ongoing.”
Still, the elections are the first under a new constitution, adopted three months ago, that allows political parties to compete with Assad’s ruling Baath Party. The new constitution also limits the president to two seven-year terms.
Assad, 46, inherited power from his father in 2000.
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 one family for more than four decades. But critics are deeply skeptical, saying the vote — and the candidates — largely have been orchestrated by the government.
“The face of the regime will not change,” said activist Mousab Alhamadee, 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.”
Experts say that despite the legal changes, Syria’s oppressive security services keep true regime opponents from participating in politics.
Omar Ossi, an Assad supporter who describes himself as an opposition candidate, told The Associated Press that he rejects any foreign interference in Syria’s affairs and instead wants to resolve the country’s crisis through dialogue.
“The new parliament will move Syria from one place to a new one that is more free and democratic, a Syria based on rule of the law and social justice,” he said, adding that Assad’s reforms were serious and would pave the way for a more democratic Syria.View Entire Story
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