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Elections in Syria are ‘cosmetic’ and will not lead to change

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Next week’s parliamentary elections in Syria are “cosmetic” and will not lead to any change in the political balance of power due to sweeping violence and a boycott by the core opposition, experts say.

“The elections are a step in a void and will not lead to any change in the political landscape and security of Syria,” Oraib al-Rantawi, director of the Amman-based Al-Quds Centre for Political Studies, told AFP.

“(They) have been prepared by the regime without consultation with the opposition,” Rantawi added.

The vote was initially scheduled for September 2011 but was postponed to May 7 after President Bashar al-Assad announced the launching of a reform process.

The ballot takes place against a backdrop of unrest that has swept the country since mid-March 2011 and has claimed more than 11,100 lives, mostly civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Security and logistical concerns notwithstanding, the credibility of the vote has also been dented by the refusal of the main opposition forces to participate.

“(The elections) take place amid insecurity, continued killings and violence ... while (many) are detained, suffering or displaced,” Rantawi said, adding that “large areas in Syria would be unable to participate freely.”

“Most political parties (contesting the vote) are ...’cartoons’ without agendas, revolving in the orbit of the regime, and they do not represent serious political forces,” Rantawi said, describing the elections as “media propaganda.”

“The regime should make way for the different elements of the opposition to participate and recognize their existence, rather than labeling them as evil forces and gangs,” he added.

Nine parties were created ahead of the vote and seven have candidates vying for a parliamentary seat.

Pro-regime parties, led by the ruling Baath Party, are represented under a coalition called the National Progressive Front, which largely won the previous elections.

Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Centre, said security is the “first condition for elections to take place.”

The opposition, Hamid added, “does not want to participate in the elections” and those parties which have recently formed “do not represent the rebels or their goals.”

Next week’s ballot is taking place amid a shaky UN-backed ceasefire that came into effect on April 12 ,but has failed to take hold, with daily casualties being reported.

It is “neither the time nor the place for elections,” as Syria is in the midst of a UN mission aimed at resolving the crisis and “negotiating a political process,” said Hassan Abdel Azim, general coordinator of the National Coordinating Body for the Forces of Democratic Change, a Syrian opposition bloc.

“The opposition and the youth do not feel any change,” Abdel Azim said. “It is impossible for one party to unilaterally impose reforms.”

Bashar al-Haraki, a member of the Syrian National Council, the principal opposition coalition, labelled the elections a “farce which can be added to the regime’s masquerade.”

He asserted that even those who support the regime “are not interested in (the elections) at all.”

A total of 7,195 candidates have registered to compete for the 250 seats up for grabs, according to state news agency SANA.

“We cannot participate in elections unless there is real change,” said Abdel Azim. He called for the formation of a “national unity government” to lead the “transition to civilian rule and parliamentary democracy.”

“Any actions that occur in the current system without the participation of the opposition and in the context of violence cannot be accepted,” he added.

Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood, which constitutes “the biggest political force” on the ground according to Hamid, cannot form a party “under the penalty of death.”

“It is difficult to consider these elections democratic or rely on their credibility and results,” Hamid said. “They are ‘cosmetic’“ and “no one in the international community takes these elections seriously.”

Washington had described the elections as “ridiculous.”

In late March, parliament urged Assad to again put off the election to allow more time to implement the reforms, SANA reported. There was no response to the request.

Rantawi believes a true electoral process can only occur with “the culmination of a breakthrough in the Syrian crisis” and by creating “a reassuring environment that convinces people of the integrity of the electoral process.”

The solution lies in “the ballot box, and not in a box of ammunition,” he said.