September 25, 2020

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Syria holds parliamentary elections amid new sanctions, crippling economy

Syrians are voting in parliamentary elections that were delayed twice because of the coronavirus pandemic. The poll is being held for the first time in former opposition strongholds.

Syrians headed to the polls Sunday to elect a new parliament, as the country grapples with international sanctions and a crumbling economy.

This is the third parliamentary election since the pro-democracy uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011 sparked a civil war that has killed more than 360,000 people.

Official figures report that some 2,100 candidates are contesting for parliament’s 250 seats in all the 15 multi-seat constituencies.

The vote, which has been delayed twice since April, will be held in government-controlled areas — including for the first time in former opposition strongholds — and also in areas where Damascus has partial control.

These include areas in the provinces of al-Hasakah, Idlib and al-Raqqa.

More than 7,400 polling stations are in place, according to the electoral commission. But millions of Syrians who fled the war and currently live abroad are not eligible to vote.

Assad’s ruling Baath party and its allies are expected to assume most of parliament’s 250 seats.

Several lists were allowed to run across the country but any real opposition is absent, with most candidates from Baath and its loyalist groups.

Skyrocketing living costs

As they headed to polling stations, many Syrians were concerned about mounting living costs. 

Food prices in the country have increased by more than 200% in the past year and now stand at 20 times their pre-war levels, the World Food Programme said.

The WFP added that more than 80% of people already live in poverty and face an “unprecedented hunger crisis.”

Many of the candidates vowed to tackle inflation and improve infrastructure destroyed by the war.

“Lawmakers are going to have to make exceptional efforts to improve services,” Umaya, a 31-year-old woman who works in a dentist’s practice, told French news agency AFP.

On the eve of the polls, one person was killed and another injured in two blasts in Damascus, state news agency SANA said.

Twenty years in power

Earlier this week, President Bashar al-Assad marked the 20th anniversary since he assumed power, weeks after the US imposed fresh sanctions on Syria including on Assad’s wife.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the Damascus government is back in control of around 70% of the country. 

The next presidential polls are expected in 2021. Candidates to be Assad’s successor will require written approval of at least 35 members of parliament.

Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said in June that Assad would stay in power “as long as Syrians want him to stay.”

mvb, dvv/mm (AFP,dpa) (DW)