Syrian television, the state news agency shows an anchor roaming a polling place as people shuffle toward ballot boxes, awkwardly avoiding eye contact. Some start dancing in the middle of the crowd, while off to the side a young girl recites a poem extolling the virtues of the homeland. “It is a duty upon every citizen to vote,” Inas Qaasem, a Damascus resident, told state television at a polling station. “They have the freedom to choose, that is the most important thing.” When asked how she had chosen her candidate, Qaasem smiled shyly and said “I don’t know. I didn’t read anything. I just saw that people were voting, and I decided to come and vote as well.” On Wednesday, 3,500 candidates vied for a place in Syria’s 250-seat parliament — though the result is not expected to be any different from that of previous elections, which have produced a quiescent parliament.
The opposition and its backers dismissed the voting as a farce. And critics say the election undercuts the Geneva peace talks, which are supposed to result in a new constitution for the country and in President Bashar Assad transitioning out of power within the next 18 months.
“To hold parliamentary elections now… given the current conditions in the country, we believe is at best premature and not representative of the Syrian people,” U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a news briefing on Monday.
But Russia, Assad’s main ally, welcomed the elections, saying they will prevent a “legal vacuum and a vacuum in the sphere of Syria’s executive power branch” until a new constitution could be created, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in a statement to Russian state news agency TASS.