Posted by Joshua on Sunday, April 22nd, 2007
Everyone interested in the election process in Syria should read Ammar Abdulhamid's Tharwa Project, which is running interesting commentary on the elections in both Arabic and English. The Tharwa Community has gathered commentary from several Syrian cities on the progress of the elections. The cartoons and photos attached to each article are as much fun as the reporting is discouraging. I have copied a few from the Arabic section below.
The opposition has called on Syrians to boycot the election process. The Tharwa Community site, however, makes it is clear that a number of Syrian reformers are not heeding this advice. For example Bassam Ishak is running in the Hassakeh elections as an independent. He probably does not have a chance of winning because the regime has already selected the four independents that it wants to win in the region. I salute Ishak, however, who I got to know in Syria in 2005. He is smart, educated, and champions the best interests of Syria. He ran in the last elections, four years ago, and won an overwhelming victory by getting some 200,000 votes. He was not declared the winner, however, because the regime supported his opponent. But he is at it again. I think it is important for reformers to keep trying even if they know they will not be successful and the process is rigged.
Why is this important? The regime is constantly looking for the most effective way to control the Syrian provinces. In the Hassakeh region, it failed miserably to keep its hand on the pulse on the population. This was clear in 2004, when the Kurdish intifada broke out, leading to widespread disturbances and the killing of a number of demonstrators and the arrest of many more.
By running campaigns, reformers can demonstrating that an alternative elite exists. When the next round of disturbances breaks out, perhaps local authorities will be forced to compromise with the local wujha, or notables, who can represent the people and bring stability to and region by demanding change and better representation?
So long as there is no apparent alternative to the regime, it is all too easy for the authorities to exploit the situation and insist that they stand alone as the solution to Syria's situation. This has been the Syrian dilemma. The absence of a alternative has played into the regime's hands. I have no illusions about how difficult this is to do, but only persistence and constant work in the field by reforms is likely to bear results. Syrians do not want revolutionary change today. They are frightened of violence. Cultivating a responsible alternative seems to be the only realistic option for reformers and the opposition.
Sami Moubayed makes a different argument for why Syrians should: Vote on Sunday.
Here are some highlights from the Tharwa project coverage:
Evidently in Hassakeh in the Jazira, the regime created a shadow list of four independent candidates that it wrote onto the ballets so there would be no confusion about which candidates locals were to vote for. Most independents who were not on the shadow list have withdrawn, but Bassam Ishak and Alaa al-Din Riziko.
Here is reporting on the Hassakeh election process:
Syrian Elector, Hassakeh (6:37 am Eastern/01:37 am Damascus) – This ballot from Hassakeh shows how the names of the Shadow List members were written in blue on the ballot. The printed names are those of the National Progressive Front. Section A is reserved for framers and workers. SEction B is for the rest. Hassakeh is alloted 14 representatives only, only four of them are independents, with one only falling in section A. the Baath has always sought to retain control over workers and farmers, leavig no room for businessmen and merchants. This is why, they have to run always as independents.
Syrian Elector, Hassakeh (6:13 am Eastern/01:13 am Damascus) – Low turnout continues to be the order of the day in Hassakeh. Local authorities and Baath branches are bringing electoral cards of their members and those collected from various citizens (most likely army recruits, and prisoners, etc.) to the electoral centers. All will be used to support the National progressive Fronts and the Shadow List of course.
But not all bath members are happy. A local Baath member indeed acknowledges that the elections:
are not democratic, but an electoral skullduggery where security apparatuses impose their candidates that we are not convinced of, and that we know will not do anything to the Governorate. I say to whoever interferes in appointing [sic] the candidates in the Governorate of Hassakeh: “leave people choose whoever they want, let’s be democratic for only one day.”
Syrian Elector, Hassakeh (3:18 am Eastern/10:18 am Damascus) – Voter turnout in Hassakeh is extremely low as as result of the early confirmation of the shadow list (the unofficial list of independents actually supported by the authorities). Baathists are currently finalizing the confirmation procedures as security officers write the names of the four candidates in blue, sealing the deal.
Syrian Elector, Hassakeh (3:09 am Eastern/10:09 am Damascus) – All independent candidates but two have withdrawn their names from the elections due to the confirmation by the local authorities of the pro-regime shadow list. The only known exceptions are Bassam Saeed Ishak, the son of a former Syrian President who ruled Syria for one day, and Alaa al-Din Riziko.
Here is another of the Tharwa photos used to spoof the election process in Syria. It is in bad taste, but invokes the derision that many Syrians express toward their electoral process and traditional Africans alike.
Addendum on photo: SimoHurtta corrected me and wrote
Actually the picture is from New Guinea which is located in Asia. Either from Indonesia's part or Papua New Guinea. Papua New Guinea's chief of state is Elisabeth II. Both Indonesia's Irian and Papua New Guinea are seen as democracies (= US and other international companies have there no difficulties in digging gold and other natural resources. Well the local people are not very happy after swimming in the cyanide and despite of democracy and free trade have not got wealthy).
Memri has compiled a good selction of translations of the Syrian press and opposition figures writing about the elections here: Criticism of the Upcoming Parliamentary Elections in the Official Syrian Press and Among the Syrian Opposition.