This past week marked one of the warmest and most popular days of the year for Syrians – The National Independence day.
On April 17th, 1946, the last of the French mandate troops left Syrian soil, and Syria was announced an independent Syrian Arab Republic. Shukri al-Quwatly, President of Syria at the time [and propably the closest political figure to the hearts of Syrians all through Syria's modern history] handled the celebrations.
It is a very warm and happy memory for Syrians, because it is one of the few things left of that era, the 40s and 50s of Syrian politics. Syria was one of the few countries in the Middle East that prided itself with democracy, a parliament, and a real political diversity. The Syrian parliament introduced the first communist to be elected to a parliament in any Arab country, Khaled Bekdash, also known as the father of Arab Communism. Along with many other political currents, Muslim Brotherhood, Baathists, Communists, National Bloc, Nasserites… It's a scene the people in Syria have missed for the past 4 decades. It reminds them of figures like Quwatly, like Khaled al-Azem, Hashim al-Atassi, the men of independence.
Once upon a time in Syria,
… real men competed for Parliament seats.
Happy Independence Day.
The quote refers to another event that was taking place in Syria this weekend. The parliamentary elections.
Few Syrians were expecting anything from the elections, which might explain the low turnout of voting [some areas reported turnout of less than 2% of eligible voters]. The voters were set to chose their representatives for the 250 seats parliament [also called People's Congress]. The NPF [National Progressive Front] is a coalition between leftist and socialist parties lead by the Baath party. The NPF is given two thirds of the seats by the constitution, which leaves the independents with 83 seats.
Some of the opposition had called to boycott the elections on the basis that there is little to chose from in the first place.
Let's see what some bloggers had to say about the elections.
In the end, the Baath party and its National Progressive Front allies gained three seats of the 250 seat Majlis el Shaab (People's Congress) at the expense of three from the independents who are down to 80 representatives. The whole electoral process was so opaque that you couldn't even get an accurate accounting of the basic numbers. Different news reports, all quoting official sources, put the number of candidates for the 250 seat Majlis al Shaab (People's Congress) at anywhere between 900 and 2500 (or was it 10,000?). I have yet to see real numbers about the turnout of eligible voters. A report of Hassakeh suggested a turnout of 1.5% on the first day of elections. The government admitted to dismally low turnout numbers but blamed it on the opposition's call for a boycott. Additionally, there were reports of many irregularities including the addition of shadow lists of Baath-approved independent candidates and of Baath activists going door to door to force people to fill and cast their ballots.
I will never be able to comprehend or justify the call by the opposition to boycott the elections. So the elections are rigged and only the specific people can win. Is this really a reason to not vote. When a Syrian does not vote, he/she is essentially accepting whatever comes his or her way and, in a way, is sanctioning the results. A much better position would be to participate and let the authorities change the count in favor of their candidates; at least this way, the opposition can argue that they indeed won the election but the corrupt government changed the results. When you don't even vote, you lose the ability to argue that you could win.
The new official game is all about pretending to be democratic and saturating the atmosphere with election hype and American-style fanfare (complete with cheap, over-sized poster and banner advertising) and whipping up public interest in a sterile non-event. It is all about creating a world of make-believe and engaging the public and local and foreign media in a preposterous game of charade. Everyone knows Syria is not a democracy and as long as the Baath Party and the Assad clan are around probably never will be. So, the regime dictates that we must all pretend to be democratic and act as though we were!
I entered the “voting secret room” and wrote down a couple of names, put the ballot in the envelope, removed the protecting strip and sealed the envelope. As I come out I handed the enveloped to the officers who scolded me for sealing the envelope!!! Bad practice number two. So what do they want to do? Check the names I wrote?? Make sure I didn’t write some insults, or scratched the names of the untouchables? They didn’t make a fuss about it and I took my card back.
On a more recent update, yesterday, a Criminal Court met a five year prison sentence against Human Rights activist Anwar al-Bunni. The verdict startled a lot of people for its harshness and timing – just after the elections.
Syria celebrated its conclusion of its national democratic elections which it called “the democratic wedding”, 2% voting turnout in some areas, by throwing the prominent lawyer and human right activist Anwar Bunni (imprisoned with Michel Kilo last year) a five year jail sentence!!!!!! and 2000 $ fine. That was because the judge claimed he tried to spread false news !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Hello Modern Justice and welcome to Hell in Syria.