President Bashar al-Assad has cast his ballot in parliamentary elections boycotted by the Syrian opposition. He has gone ahead with the poll despite the war which means millions of people are not voting.
With peace talks set to resume in Geneva, the embattled leader appears keen to gain leverage at the negotiating table. Britain and France dismissed the vote as a ‘flimsy facade’ and a ‘sham’. Germany said it wouldn’t recognise the results while the opposition said it was illegitimate.
Speaking on Syrian State TV Assad slammed his opponents. Assad considers all those fighting him as terrorists.
“It is true that terrorism managed to destroy much of the infrastructure and it managed to shed lots of blood, but it failed to realise the main goal which is to strike at the main structure in Syria, the social fabric and the national identity.”
A fractured country
Five years of conflict, has left 250,000 people dead, created millions of refugees, and split the country into areas controlled by the government, rebel groups, Kurdish militia and ISIL fighters.
With parliament elected every four years, it is the second time Syrians go to the polls against a backdrop of war. Polling stations are only open in government-controlled territory. The regime controls around one third of the country, including the main cities of western Syria. The vote is therefore set to return a resounding victory for the embattled president’s regime.
“My vote is like a bullet to our enemies,” explained High school student Yazan Fahes voting in Damascus. “I am here to continue the ongoing resistance for (the last) 5 years. I am here to support the Syrian Arab Army.”
“Firstly we are asking to live a normal life, because what we have now is no life at all,” said one woman at a polling station in the Syrian capital.
Those living in opposition-held territories dismissed the vote.
“We used to be forced to cast our vote in sham elections. Now, we are no longer obliged to. After all this killing they want to make a play called elections,” said Yousef Doumani, speaking from the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta area near Damascus.
Divorced from reality
Western countries opposed to Assad have pointed out that the vote is out of line with UN Security Council resolution that calls for elections at the end of an 18-month transition period. However, his allies, notably the Kremlin say it is in line with the constitution.
“The decision of the regime to hold elections is a measure of how divorced it is from reality. They cannot buy back legitimacy by putting up a flimsy facade of democracy,” said a spokesperson for the British government.
Holding the elections as peace talks resume appeared to be a strong signal that Assad is unwilling to step down – a key demand of the opposition represented in Geneva.