Syrians cast vote for parliament as diplomacy struggles

Syrians have voted in a parliamentary election in government-held areas of the country on Wednesday in what voters called a show of support for President Bashar al-Assad, who is holding the poll in defiance of opponents seeking to oust him.

The election is going ahead independently of a U.N.-led peace process aimed at finding a political solution to the five-year-long war. The government says it is being held on time in line with the constitution. The opposition says the vote is illegitimate, while Britain and France dismissed it as “flimsy facade” and a “sham”.

“We are voting for the sake of the Syrian people and for the sake of Assad. Assad is already strong but these elections show that the people support him and bolster him,” said Hadi Jumaa, a 19-year-old student, as he cast his ballot at his university halls of residence in Damascus.

Dozens queued to vote at one polling station where a portrait of Assad hung on the wall. While some voters danced outside.

With his wife Asma at his side as he went to vote in Damascus, a smiling Assad told Newsmen that terrorism had been able to destroy much of Syria’s infrastructure but not Syria’s “social structure, the national identity”. It was the first time he had voted in a parliamentary election.

The conflict which had killed more than 250,000 and created millions of refugees has caused havoc on the government areas of Syria.

The government views all the groups fighting it as terrorists.

The government controls around one third of Syria, including the main cities of western Syria, home to most of the people who have not fled the country.

The United Nations puts the number of refugees at 4.8 million.

With parliament elected every four years, it is the second parliamentary election held by the government in wartime.

Assad was reelected head of state in a presidential election in 2014.

Voters are to elect 250 MPs to parliament, which has no real power in Syria’s presidential system.

The state is rallying them around the slogan “Your vote strengthens your steadfastness”.