Syrian opposition boycotts parliamentary elections

Syrian women have their identification checked before casting their votes in Damascus in parliamentary elections.
(Louai Beshara, AFP/Getty Images)

BEIRUT — Opposition activists across Syria on Monday boycotted parliamentary elections they dismissed as illegitimate, and instead called for a general strike.

The Syrian government, on the other hand, hailed the multiparty elections, Syria’s first, as marking a historic step toward comprehensive political reform in a country that has been ruled by the same family and political party for more than four decades.

In February, Syrians voted for a new constitution that abolished the one-party system long controlled by the Baath Party. That election was also boycotted by the opposition, which said it did not offer real reforms and came after President Bashar Assad’s crackdown on dissent had already resulted in the deaths of thousands of civilians.

But it was unclear Monday whether others besides the Baath Party had put up any candidates.

The National Development Party registered this year, saying its goal was to establish a democratic society in Syria through political and legal means. But it did not participate in the elections. Mohammad Samman, one of its founders, said his party didn’t have enough time to select candidates.

Information Minister Adnan Mahmoud said the elections were held in an atmosphere of democracy and political pluralism, according to state media. He said the elections were intended to challenge terrorism waged by other Arab and international powers against the country, the Syrian Arab News Agency reported.

But outside of Damascus and Aleppo, where some voting was reported, it was unclear how polling stations were set up in cities with a strong rebel presence.

Many antigovernment activists gathered in protests against the elections. Others used the Internet to satirize the proceedings. In one video, said to have been shot in Idlib, activists staged a skit depicting voters getting money from pro-government thugs as they entered a polling station, then being given ballots already filled out with the names of candidates they would be voting for.

Another video mocked the rhetoric used on state television, extolling the “great participation” in the elections by showing chickens gathered around a bucket, pecking at feed.

State media showed Syrians eagerly voting at polling stations and, in interviews on the street, extolling the importance of casting a ballot.

One activist in Damascus countered the state media reports, saying that residents were boycotting the polls. In addition, activists were calling on businesses to remain shuttered for the day.

“No one is in the streets, and no one is coming or going,” the activist said.

Omar Hamzah, an activist from the Damascus suburbs, said in a Skype interview that there were several instances of people having their ID cards confiscated at a checkpoint and being forced to go to election centers to cast their votes before getting their IDs back.

Meanwhile, the violence didn’t stop. An activist group reported that at least 25 people were killed Monday across Syria.

In a Damascus neighborhood, security forces opened fire on a protest to disperse demonstrators, and gunfire was reported in at least one other area of the city, an activist group said.

Explosions were reported in the city of Idlib and security forces reportedly fired indiscriminately.

Forces attacked a village in Hama province, killing four people, wounding 11 and burning many homes, activists said. Hayan, a suburb of Aleppo, was also attacked, and video showed the homes of activists being burned.

Marrouch is a special correspondent.