Violence-hit Syria set for polls

Homs – Against a backdrop of deadly unrest, Syria is set to hold on Monday a multi-party parliamentary election which regime critics and analysts say will do little to change the autocratic country.

The vote, initially scheduled for September 2011, was postponed to May 7 this year after President Bashar al-Assad announced the launch of a reform process. It comes amid unrest sweeping the country since mid-March 2011 that has claimed more than 11,100 lives, mostly civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

United Nations (UN) observers examine a Syrian army tank during a field visit to the Ain Hour area, near Damascus on Sunday.

Security and logistical concerns notwithstanding, the credibility of the vote has also been hit by the refusal of the main opposition forces to participate. Such divisiveness is clear in the central flashpoint city of Homs, heart of the rebellion. Campaign posters cover a wall in the central Hadara neighbourhood, inhabited mostly by members of the Alawite community, the same offshoot of Shia Islam to which Assad belongs.

But just a few kilometres (miles) away in Bayada district, nobody will be voting — because the residents fled a devastating assault in March by regime troops to snuff out rebels of the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Most Bayada homes bear scars from the fighting. “I will vote because I support the reforms proposed by President Bashar al-Assad to fight against corruption,” Hadara resident Hossam, 24, told AFP. In Bayada, a majority Sunni district, the mood was grim.

“What elections are you talking about? There are no elections here. Can’t you see?” asked 27-year-old carpenter Abu Shaker, gesturing at the destruction. “I am against it (polls) as long as we can’t return to our homes,” he said while stacking his van with belongings he managed to salvage from his home.

Monday’s election will be the first time Syria has held multi-party elections since the adoption in February by referendum of a new constitution that ended the five-decade stranglehold on power of the ruling Baath party. 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 7,195 candidates have registered to stand for the 250 seats, state news agency SANA said.

But experts believe little will change politically in Syria, where a tenuous UN-backed ceasefire that came into effect 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,” Oraib al-Rantawi, director of the Amman-based Al-Quds Centre for Political Studies, told AFP.

It is taking place “amid a lack of security, continued killings and violence… while (many) are detained, suffering or displaced,” Rantawi said, dismissing the elections as “media propaganda.”

In Homs province, the country’s industrial hub and home to 2.3 million people, more than 450 candidates are vying for 23 seats. Half represent parties and the rest are standing as independents.

While the violence of the past 14 months has turned Homs into one of the symbols of the uprising, some still have hopes for Assad’s regime.

His supporters say they are determined to vote for security and against corruption.

“I don’t want regime change. I want change to happen from within, because I am with the president,” said Samira, a 52-year-old mother.

Source: The Nation

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