Syria is making final preparations for a parliamentary election on Monday, with authorities praising it as a major reform, while opposition activists dismiss it as a farce for coinciding with a violent government crackdown on an opposition uprising.
Syrian election officials have said at least seven new political parties will participate in Monday’s vote for the 250-seat assembly, dominated for decades by the ruling Baath party of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. A new constitution approved in a February referendum allowed the creation of opposition parties to compete with the Baath-led National Progressive Front.
Members of Syria’s main opposition groups said Sunday the election has no credibility at a time when government forces are killing people in centers of the 14-month-long rebellion against Assad’s autocratic rule. With most opposition factions boycotting the vote, they predicted pro-government lawmakers will continue dominating the parliament.
Assad’s government has made a series of reform gestures since the start of the uprising while pressing ahead with the crackdown on what it sees as armed terrorists backed by a foreign conspiracy. On the eve of the election, Syrian state television showed the president participating in a martyrs’ day ceremony for troops in a mountainous region overlooking Damascus.
Syrian government and rebel forces have continued daily attacks on each other despite a U.N.-backed truce agreement that took effect last month. A U.N. team deployed in Syria to monitor the truce said Sunday the number of observer personnel has risen to 70, with the contingent set to reach 300 by the end of May.
U.N. observers toured several towns around Damascus on Sunday, meeting Syrian troops, inspecting military vehicles and talking to residents in Zabadani and Madaya. The U.N. mission has said it is having a calming effect on the unrest in areas where observers have taken up residence.
The truce agreement mediated by international envoy Kofi Annan calls for Syrian troops and heavy weapons to be pulled out of civilian areas. The Syrian government has said it reserves the right to use those forces to defend against rebel attacks. Both sides in the conflict accuse the other of repeatedly violating the cease-fire.
Source: Voices of America