Syria is set to hold parliamentary elections on Monday [May 7, 2012], even as violence between government and opposition forces continues across the country.
A new crop of politicians in the capital has been working for this moment for months, Syria's first multi-party parliamentary elections. The new faces mean an end to the 40-year monopoly on power by the Baath party, a political concession by President Bashar al-Assad to the popular uprising, even as the government's military crackdown continues.
In the run-up to the ballot, candidates set up tents and spent their evenings explaining their agenda.
Mohamed Badri is with the National Democratic Solidarity Party, one of several new opposition groups sanctioned by the government. His platform echoes the protesters' original demands. Badri says his party is seeking democracy and freedom of expression. It wants, he says, to secure “the hopes and aspirations of the Syrian street.”
The candidate says the constitution adopted in February, another concession to the protesters, has all that Syria needs.
The problem, Badri says, is with the application of the laws. He vows, if elected, to push through implementation.
It is a promise that has gained Badri followers.
Architecture student Mosaeb Hammou said he is voting for Badri because the candidate is calling for something new, “determination," "freedom" and "progress.”
But sitting in his tent, with a government official who accompanies foreign reporters by his side, the limits of this exercise in reform seem apparent. Asked what, as an opposition candidate, he opposes about the government, Badri cannot name one thing.
"The Syrian leadership and the Syrian government," he says, "is a far-sighted leadership. Syria is the focal point of the whole Middle East," Badri adds and that, "after this crisis ends, it will rise with greater economic and military power than before," he said.
It is that kind of opposition that has led many Syrians to become skeptical.
University student Sally Kesseiri says she will stay away from the polls.
Kesseiri says no candidate deserves to be elected.
After 14 months of protests, a crackdown and armed insurrection, and with an estimated 9,000 people killed, the election is being boycotted by those who have risen up against President Assad and dismissed as a distraction by the opposition in exile and the countries that demand that Mr. Assad step down.
They say it is yet another pretext for the government to buy time, the way it agreed to an Arab League peace plan that languished, or signed on to a U.N. effort only now getting underway. But with few alternatives to the violence, at least some Syrians say they are heading to the polls.