May 7, 2012
Syrian activists say people in rebellious towns and villages across the country are largely boycotting a government-run parliamentary election that major opposition groups have dismissed as a sham.
The activists say streets were empty and shops were closed in the central town of Hama and other opposition strongholds, as residents observed a general strike to protest Monday’s vote.
The election is the latest effort by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to show that a democratic reform process is underway in the country ruled by his family since the 1970s.
But, prominent Syrian opposition groups inside and outside the country have called the vote a farce, saying it cannot have any credibility while Assad’s forces continue a deadly crackdown on a 14-month opposition uprising.
Syrian state television showed voters casting ballots in the capital, Damascus, and elsewhere for more than 7,000 candidates vying for seats in the 250-member parliament. A coalition led by Assad’s Baath party has monopolized the assembly for decades, but a new constitution approved in a February referendum allowed for the creation of new political parties.
The government has said at least seven new parties are competing with the Baath-led National Progressive Front for parliamentary seats, but the exiled opposition Syrian National Council rejected those parties as “creations of the regime.” In some centers of the revolt, residents displayed posters of activists killed by government forces, urging people to vote for the “martyrs” rather than the government-sanctioned candidates.
Some voters in Damascus said they have a duty to vote and others expressed a hope for change. Opposition SNC spokeswoman Bassma Kodmani said that the Syrian government pressures people to vote in areas under its control by mobilizing security forces to transport them to polling stations.
Syrian government and rebel forces have continued daily attacks on each other despite a U.N.-backed truce agreement that took effect last month. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government troops killed three people in an ambush in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour on Monday.