Posted by Joshua on Monday, April 23rd, 2007
Photo thanks to John Wreford, whose gallery can be found at www.johnwreford.com
All the post election roundups are having a good time laughing at the Syrian elections for being a farce.
Emblematic of the coverage are these smarty-pants comments by Marty Peretz, the editor-in-chief of the New Republic. He writes:
It is mandated by law that this alliance of Ba'ath and castrated allies win these seats again, according to David Schenker, who was an adviser on Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestinian matters to the Defense Department from 2002 until 2006. These credentials may not reassure you. So find us some other honest and smart person–which Schenker certainly is–who'll tell us something different. This immediately precludes Patrick Seale and Robert Fisk, both Brits, who believe that Bashir Assad, like his dad, is a true democrat.
Even the French are now disgusted with the Assad regime and, more important, actively hostile to it. For one reason at least: it is destroying Lebanon, which Paris wants as its last–tiens, tiens–remaining satrapy of empire.
Not only does he make the old "Bashir" mistake, but he argues that Seale and Fisk "believe Assad is a true Democrat." Yawn. Anyone who has read a word of Seale or Fisk know that they believe nothing of the sort. How did this guy win so many awards for journalism? I guess if you have money and own your own magazine, you can say what you want.
But no one addresses the larger dilemma – certainly not Peretz: how do you get to democracy in the Middle East without destroying what is there? Peretz and Schenker both made the really grievous mistake of arguing that America had the answers to Iraq's political system. It is easy to make fun of Middle Eastern regimes for running predetermined elections, but it is bizarre to see Americans still smugly righteous about how to rule Middle Eastern states. If America could do Iraq over again, it is hard to imagine that it wouldn't take a few pages out of the Syrian or Egyptian play book. Seale and Fisk had the insight to know that imposing an American order on Iraq would lead to disaster. Enough of my rant. Here is the round-up:
AP writes this about the close of elections:
State newspapers claimed there was “massive participation” and “fierce competition” in Sunday's polling, the first of the two-day election, but they provided no figures for voter turnout.
The government reserves the majority of seats in the 250-seat parliament for candidates from the ruling coalition. But Syria hopes the election will soften its authoritarian image and perhaps ease its international isolation.
The United States has dismissed the elections as useless.
The opposition called for a boycott, saying the results were known in advance, and that Syria needed an election law that provided for free and fair polling. Some government critics said the boycott campaign was responsible for the vote being even lower than usual.
Results from the voting are not expected before Wednesday.
Still, in the Arab world, where some countries do not have elections and others vote for bodies with very limited power, Syria's parliamentary elections and the tolerance of government critics mark a significant stride from the country's totalitarian past.
“We should all support this great leadership. No other Arab country has confronted American and Israeli policies the way Syria has,” said Salem Mohammed, 50, a merchant.
But Mohammed Arnous, 39, said he was angered by the “haphazard” way people were voting.
“We should really think about who we are voting for,” he said before entering a balloting station in downtown Damascus.
Some 2,500 candidates are running for the National Assembly in this country of 18.6 million people. Authorities have said that around 7 million citizens are eligible to vote.
Last week, the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, J. Scott Carpenter, described the vote as meaningless and “a missed opportunity” for change.
A senior member of the ruling coalition, Safwan Qudsi, replied that Carpenter's comments amounted to interference in Syrian affairs.
Hassan Abdel-Azim, a lawyer who heads a group of small parties opposed to the government, said the boycott call was a factor in the apparently low turnout on Sunday.
“Of course, the foremost reason for the low turnout is the feeling that the result of the election is a foregone conclusion,” he said.
The government denies this, claiming the boycott had no effect.
“The fate of all those who collaborate against their country is well known,” said Bouthaina Shaaban, a Cabinet minister.
The vote took place "in total freedom and transparency," SANA said on Monday, without giving turnout figures for the first day's vote on Sunday.
"Turnout is low but higher than yesterday," an official at a downtown Damascus polling station told AFP shortly before polls closed, walls behind him featuring posters of President Bashar al-Assad with his father and predecessor Hafez.
"Citizens, elections are a national democratic celebration. Vote for whoever you think is the most competent," read a nearby interior ministry sign.
While turnout on Monday appeared low at several other polling stations visited by AFP in the capital, an AFP photographer in Damascus' poorer southern districts reported "relatively high turnout" with people queueing to vote.
Residents appeared split on whether the election, totally lacking in suspense for most people, would bring any change.
Even the official Tishrin daily said last week that Syrians "have lost their enthusiasm for the parliamentary elections."
In Syria's second city of Aleppo, in the north, "candidates were disappointed by the low turnout," the independent Al-Watan daily reported on Monday.
But there is one thing that is different in these elections – never before have Syrians so openly voiced their lack of interest in the polls, and that is a sign that perhaps something is changing in Syria, our correspondent says.