DAMASCUS: Polling stations opened in Syria on Monday for the first “multiparty” parliamentary elections in five decades, being held against a backdrop of violence and which the opposition has dismissed as a sham.
Voting began at 7:00 am (local time) across Syria, which has been swept by raging unrest since March last year, when President Bashar al-Assad resorted to force in a bid to quash a revolt against his autocratic regime.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, more than 11,100 people have died in the violence, mostly civilians.
The vote, initially scheduled for September 2011, was postponed to May 7 after Assad announced the launch of a reform process.
Security and logistical concerns notwithstanding, the credibility of the vote has also been hit by the refusal of the main opposition forces to participate.
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.
Political specialists, however, believe the elections will not make any significant political changes in Syria, where a tenuous UN-backed ceasefire that came into effect April 12 has failed to take hold.
The Syrian opposition has dismissed the vote as a sham.
Bashar al-Haraki, a member of the Syrian National Council, the principal opposition coalition, has labelled the elections a “farce which can be added to the regime's masquerade.” The 12,000 polling stations are due to close at 10.00 pm (local time).