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Syria's Assad consolidates power through legislative elections despite criticism

Syria's Assad consolidates power through legislative elections despite criticism

Syrians voted Monday in a tightly controlled election to pick a new legislature through which President Bashar Assad could consolidate his rule, soften his regime's authoritarian image and better prepare his nation to face Western pressures.
The result of the election, which under the constitution guarantees the ruling Baath Party and its allies a two-third majority, was not expected before Wednesday. But there was no doubt about the outcome.
A priority facing the rubber-stamp parliament is approving the Baath's nomination of Assad for a second seven-year term in office. The president is expected to easily win a July referendum.
A dose of democracy, however limited, could serve to boost Assad's standing at home as he tries to soften Syria's hard-line image and ease its international isolation after being shunned by U.S. and European officials over policies in neighboring Iraq and Lebanon.
Regime opponents and the United States have dismissed the balloting Sunday and Monday, calling the election a meaningless exercise.
Still, the campaigning brought some relaxation of past rigid controls. Some state-run newspapers criticized individual candidates, though such vocal comments were limited to those running rather than the regime itself.
Some people who cast ballots also said they didn't believe their vote counted.
"I don't really think anything is going to change, but I wanted to vote anyway," said shoe shop owner Inas Kokash, 28, after casting his ballot Monday. "It's better to do something than to do nothing at all."
State-run newspapers reported "massive participation" and "fierce competition" in Sunday's polling, the first of the two-day election to pick 250 National Assembly members from the 2,500 candidates. Opponents, who urged a boycott, said there was no competition and credited what they said was a lower than usual turnout to their efforts. Opposition parties are banned in Syria.
Washington, which is at odds with Syria over Lebanon, Iraq and other Mideast issues, also criticized the elections.
U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Monday Assad "is again denying the right of the Syrian people to an open, transparent and fully participatory political environment." He said the Syrian people deserve democratically elected representatives who are willing to "fight corruption, provide greater economic opportunities, and encourage real political participation by the next generation of leaders."
Authorities have described U.S. criticism as interference and their Syrian opponents as collaborators.
"Nations across the world, namely peoples of the Middle East, are fed up with U.S.-style 'democracy and freedom' and need no lessons or advice from others," said an editorial Monday in the English-language Syria Times.
Authorities have said there were around 7 million eligible voters of a population of 18.6 million. The government did not release voter turnout numbers after polls closed early Monday afternoon. Low voter turnout is customary in Syria, where the legislature has no major say in policy-making.
Opponents insisted its boycott call affected the election.
"Such a boycott is a message to the world as an expression of the frustration and pressures" by the regime on the people, said dissident Maamoun Homsi, a former lawmaker who spent time in jail before seeking refuge abroad.
The election is the second since Assad took power in 2000 after the death of his father, Hafez Assad. Many initially had high hopes then when pro-democracy activists were given brief measures of freedom. But those hopes have been replaced by disillusionment as his regime jailed opponents and failed to enact promised political reforms.
At a Baath Party congress in 2005, delegates endorsed the idea of independent political parties and relaxing emergency laws, in place since 1963. But those promises have yet to be realized.
Despite the shortcomings, Syria's elections mark a significant stride from the tighter regime controls in the past.
In the Arab world, some countries, including U.S. allies, do not have elections and others vote for bodies with very limited power. In Syria, unlike some Arab countries, women get to vote and can be elected to office. A total of 158 women are running in the election and are expected to slightly increase their presence in the legislature where 30 women currently hold posts.


Updated : 2021-10-16 08:35 GMT+08:00