Date: May 08 2012
DAMASCUS: Polling stations have opened in Syria for the first ''multi-party'' parliamentary elections in five decades against a backdrop of violence, the opposition dismissing it as a sham.
Long queues formed on Monday in some neighbourhoods of the capital where young and old waited patiently to cast their ballots, while in opposition strongholds residents boycotted the vote and held a general strike in protest.
The election was being held despite unrest that has swept the country since March last year, when President Bashar al-Assad resorted to force in a bid to quash a revolt against his autocratic regime.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, more than 11,100 people have died in the violence, mostly civilians.
The vote, initially scheduled for last September, was postponed to yesterday after Mr Assad announced the launch of a reform process.
Security and logistical concerns notwithstanding, the credibility of the vote has also been hit by the refusal of the main opposition forces to participate. Yesterday's election will be the first since the adoption in February by referendum of a new constitution that ended the stranglehold on power of the ruling Baath Party.
''I think these elections will bring a definitive end to the crisis,'' said Shahba Karim, 18, after casting her vote in central Damascus.
But others held a different view.
''I voted no in the constitutional referendum, but this time I won't cast a ballot because by doing so it would mean I agree with the process, which is not the case,'' said Fady, 47, a media worker.
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.
A total of 7195 candidates have registered to stand for the 250 seats, the Syrian Arab News Agency 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 on 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,'' said Oraib al-Rantawi, the director of the Al-Quds Centre for Political Studies in Amman.
It is taking place ''amid a lack of security, continued killings and violence … while [many] are detained, suffering or displaced'', Mr Rantawi said, dismissing the elections as ''media propaganda''.
But Syria's Information Minister, Adnan Mahmoud, said voting was an act of defiance.
Bashar al-Haraki, a member of the Syrian National Council, the principal opposition coalition, has labelled the elections a ''farce, which can be added to the regime's masquerade''.
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