Syrians deeply divided over attitude to election


SYRIANS ARE deeply divided over today’s parliamentary election, with the government urging voters to cast ballots while the opposition calls for a boycott.

While Syrians, amazed over the appearance of 10 new parties, are preparing to vote, veteran opposition figures like Abdel Aziz al-Khair of the National Co-ordination Board consider this election” a fake”. Moreover, he argues that nothing has changed. “The regime acts as it has before.”

In spite of the naysayers, a breeze, if not a wind, of change is blowing through the country. “There are 900 people standing for 29 seats in Damascus. We are not used to seeing election campaigns . . . I followed crossfire discussions on TV and debated with my friends. Multiparty elections are good for our country,” said Hayyan Maq, an engineer.

He, like many of his compatriots, is bemused by the wide choice of candidates – 7,000 for 250 seats – whose names and faces they do not know.

There have been no mass campaign rallies but candidates have hosted gatherings in colourful marquees where potential voters were wooed with tea and talk until Saturday night, when campaigning stopped.

Imad Badri is the sole candidate for the National Democratic Party. He is seeking a seat in a constituency in Damascus’s old city. The party was founded last August. He has combined forces with three other old city hopefuls, including George Shaheen, a Christian standing for the Bab Touma (St Thomas’s gate) neighbourhood. Their list is called “Syria for All.”

Asked if he was concerned about safety during these violent times, Mr Badri, a businessman, said: “If we are afraid and just stay at home, we can’t effect change . . . After the election, we will have a new parliament and a new assembly. This will be a good step forward.” Mr Shaheen, who runs an institute for teaching music, seeks to provide full healthcare for all Syrians.

In the marquee in front of the headquarters of the dominant Baath party a master of ceremonies introduced the 18 candidates, including five women, fielded by the 11-party National Patriotic Front.

As the meeting ended with the national anthem, a couple said they would vote for the front, arguing that it would rebuild the country.

An hour’s drive from the capital in the Christian majority hill town of Maaloula, Manal, a young mother of two was at one with the majority of the Christian community when she expressed firm support for the government. She plans to vote “for a good person”, but would not indicate which party.

Co-religionists Assa’ad and George adopted the same stance. Maaloula, a town built into the walls of a deep gorge, has experienced no violence during 13 months of turmoil. Its inhabitants depend for their livelihood on pilgrims visiting the church of Saints Sergios and Bakkus and the tomb of St Takla, a first century martyr who is said to grant wishes of the devout.

Syrians commemorating “Martyrs Day” yesterday sipped the holy water from the spring near the tomb and wished for peace.