Baath expected to maintain dominance as Syria goes to polls
Anti-Assad opposition and their allies denounce elections as a sham
Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and wife Asma after casting their votes in Damascus, Syria: Voting was extended until midnight, but is unlikely to produce any surprises in the 250-seat assembly or challenge the dominance of the Baath party. Photograph: Sana/Reuters
Syrian peace talks resumed in Geneva yesterday, while residents living in government- held areas went to the polls in parliamentary elections dismissed by the opposition and western backers as a sham.
State media showed a smiling president Bashar al-Assad and his wife, Asma, voting near the presidential palace in Damascus. Crowds were filmed pouring into polling stations at the Hejaz railway station in the centre of the capital to achieve what one TV correspondent called “constitutional stability”.
Voting was extended until midnight, but is unlikely to produce any surprises in the 250-seat assembly or challenge the dominance of the Baath party or loyal independents.
The anti-Assad opposition and the western and Arab countries that back it dismissed the elections as a sham designed to demonstrate the sovereignty and independence of the Syrian state – even though large parts of the country are no longer under its control.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said the parliamentary elections were intended to avoid a “legal vacuum” before a transition.
“But before this happens, one should avoid any legal vacuum. These elections held today are designed to play this role of not allowing a legal vacuum.”
A spokesman for the French foreign ministry, Romain Nadal, said: “France denounces this sham of an election organised by the regime. They are being held without campaigning, under the auspices of an oppressive regime and without international observation.”
As voting got under way, opposition negotiators in Geneva met the UN envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura.
Mr de Mistura was just back from talks in Damascus and Tehran in search of what he has called a “critical mass” of support for a political transition to end a conflict that has cost about 470,000 lives and displaced millions.
Mr De Mistura has said he wants this second round of talks to focus on concrete steps towards that transition. However, the government has insisted that Mr Assad’s continued rule is a red line and that negotiations must be about national unity and fighting terrorism.
Syria’s deputy foreign minister, Faisal Mekdad, said yesterday that the opposition had to let go of its “dream” of a transitional government, saying it would amount to a coup d’etat.
Mr Assad’s officials, emphasising the importance of the elections, will arrive in Geneva today and meet Mr De Mistura tomorrow. The two sides have not yet met face to face.
Both the election and peace talks may be overshadowed by renewed fighting that is threatening to end a six-week “cessation of hostilities” agreed between Russia and the US in order to keep the faltering political process on track.
Ceasefire slippingSamantha Power
Ms Power said Russia must put pressure on Mr Assad to “get the regime back with the programme”. She added that she was very alarmed by Syria’s plans to launch a Russian- backed counter-offensive in Aleppo, the epicentre of the renewed fighting.
– (Guardian service)