Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Elections Under Siege

In this photo taken during a government-organized tour, Syrian campaign workers wait outside a polling station during the parliamentary elections, in Damascus, Syria, Monday, May 7, 2012. Syrians cast ballots Monday in parliamentary elections billed by the regime as key to President Bashar Assad's political reforms, but the opposition dismissed the vote as a sham meant to preserve his autocratic rule. (AP Photo/Muzaffar Salman)
Elections in Syria were held on May 7, 2012, amidst the continual barrage of bullets and tanks. The Syrian opposition had boycotted these elections, especially since the areas with the strongest opposition to Assad's regime, such as Dar'a, Homs and Hama, are under siege. U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Monday that balloting in the current atmosphere in Syria "borders on ludicrous." 

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. 

The video below illustrates how many Syrians feel about the current elections. It's a spoof of the supposed "free and fair" elections the Syrian regimie claims to be holding:

However, State media on Monday showed Syrians eagerly voting at polling stations and, in interviews on the street, extolling the importance of casting a ballot. Judicial supervision "ensures fairness, freedom and democracy for the electorate in choosing their representatives," the Syrian Arab News Agency reported. 
An 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. "It's all empty talk."
The National Development Party registered earlier this year, saying its goal was to establish a democratic society in Syria through political and legal means. Yet it did not participate in the election. Mohammad Samman, one of its founders, said his party didn't have enough time to select candidates.
It was not clear if any other political parties besides the Baath Party placed candidates on the ballot.
Another activist in Aleppo said there was some voting in a few neighborhoods but that many of those at the polls were government workers forced to participate, or supporters of the regime.
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. 
In some Syrian cities, activists staged protests. Others used cyberspace to mock the polling: In the video above, said to have been shot in Idlib, activists staged a skit about the elections, depicting voters getting money from pro-government thugs as they enter a polling station, then being given ballots already filled out with the names to vote for. (The state media video did not appear to have been uploaded to the Internet).
Another video, seen below, made fun of the rhetoric used on Syrian state television, extolling the "great participation" in the elections over footage of chickens pecking at feed: