BEIRUT -- Syrian parliamentary elections were held Monday but were widely boycotted by opposition groups, who deemed the polling a farce.
The multi-party election comes after a new constitution was approved by voters in February, abolishing the Baath Party as the sole political party allowed in Syria. That election was also boycotted by the opposition, who said it didn't offer true reforms and came too late, after the government of President Bashar Assad had already killed thousands of civilians in a violent crackdown on dissent.
State media on Monday showed Syrians eagerly voting at polling stations and, in interviews on the street, extolling the importance of casting a ballot. Judicial supervision "ensures fairness, freedom and democracy for the electorate in choosing their representatives," the Syrian Arab News Agency reported.
An activist in Damascus countered the state media reports, saying that residents were boycotting the polls. In addition, activists were calling on businesses to remain shuttered for the day.
"No one is in the streets, and no one is coming or going," the activist said. "It's all empty talk."
The National Development Party registered earlier this year, saying its goal was to establish a democratic society in Syria through political and legal means. Yet it did not participate in the election. Mohammad Samman, one of its founders, said his party didn't have enough time to select candidates.
It was not clear if any other political parties besides the Baath Party placed candidates on the ballot.
Another activist in Aleppo said there was some voting in a few neighborhoods but that many of those at the polls were government workers forced to participate, or supporters of the regime.
Omar Hamzah, an activist from the Damascus suburbs, said in a Skype interview that there were several instances of people having their ID cards confiscated at a checkpoint and being forced to go to election centers to cast their votes before getting their IDs back.
In some Syrian cities, activists staged protests. Others used cyberspace to mock the polling: In the video above, said to have been shot in Idlib, activists staged a skit about the elections, depicting voters getting money from pro-government thugs as they enter a polling station, then being given ballots already filled out with the names to vote for. (The state media video did not appear to have been uploaded to the Internet).
During the elections, United Nations monitors tasked with observing whether the fragile peace plan in Syria is holding went to Saqba outside of Damascus. In the video below, one man exhorts the monitors, "We don't have armed groups here. Look. People are watching, and we are being suffocated."
Another video is said to show closed shops in the Damascus neighborhood of Midan as an act of defiance against the elections:
-- Rima Marrouch