BEIRUT — Syrians voted Monday in parliamentary elections touted by the government as evidence that it is embarking on political reform. The opposition, however, called on citizens to skip the vote, saying it was a sham exercise by President Bashar al-Assad to secure his hold on power.
For the first time in decades, multiple political parties were ostensibly allowed to challenge the dominance of the Baath Party, which has ruled Syria unchecked since 1963. But with the government imposing strict restrictions on who could compete and security forces targeting Assad opponents with violence in many parts of the country despite a cease-fire agreement, the regime's opponents said the vote demonstrated that Assad has no intention of carrying out meaningful reforms.
"Of course they are not serious," said Mousab al-Hamadee, an activist in Hama. "They are just trying to lift international pressure and show the world that they are making reforms, while we are being shelled and killed. It's like a dance on the corpses of dead people."
Activists posted video on YouTube showing shuttered stores in several parts of the country, including in Hama, Deir al-Zour and the restive Midan neighborhood of Damascus.
Throughout the day, state television broadcast footage of Syrians across the country swarming to vote, and official media reported high turnout. But the reports are difficult to verify because few Western journalists are allowed access into Syria, and those granted visas operate under tight restrictions.
The elections were held under the terms of a new constitution, which went into effect in February. It gives few powers to the legislature, with Assad retaining the authority to appoint and fire the government. Hence, the election is unlikely to have any effect on the overall direction of the government or on the crisis.
The vote came as the United Nations is gradually shoring up a monitoring mission aimed at stopping the violence and paving the way for negotiations between Assad and his opponents. But with just about 40 of the 300 monitors in place, the mission has had only a modest impact on the level of unrest.