Syria’s government held a parliamentary election on Monday, setting aside the ongoing rebellion in that country.
According to the government, voting was smooth and turnout was high.
But opposition groups cast doubt on those assertions — reporting more fighting between rebels and troops, and calling the vote a sham.
Monday morning, the government gave foreign journalists an escorted bus tour of several select polling stations in downtown Damascus, driving past hundreds of campaign posters covering buildings and billboards. First stop, a school in the neighborhood of Kafar Souseh.
Inside, the hallway hummed with people eager to vote and eager to tell reporters why they think it’s a good idea to cast a ballot while people are fighting and dying.
Rada Boubaker called it a step forward.
“I think it is very good for my country, for my president. I must vote,” Boubaker said. "I think the vote will bring peace for my country.”
For all the boosterism, there were also flashes of anger toward those who continue to protest and who likely didn’t vote Monday.
“It’s only the minority who demonstrate,” Mase el-Ali said. “The majority are for peace and improvement. The minority are destroying everything for us.”
In this crowd, there was only one woman who said she actually lived in Kafar Souseh. That’s important because only days ago, a large crowd gathered here for funerals that turned into a big street protest.
Down the street from the school, a group of boys played pick up soccer. The election means they’ve got the day off school.
An older man leans against a wall watching them. He said he’s not voting and he doubts many other residents here will either.
“I’ve voted before but nothing changed,” the man said, “so this time I’m not going to bother.”
If President Bashar al-Assad is looking to gain some sort of legitimacy from these elections, he’s not winning over those who have long stood in opposition.
The birdsong is just about the only pleasant thing in the dingy old offices that house the National Coordination Council for Democratic Change. Abdul Aziz al Khair spent years in jail for opposing the regime. That isn’t stopping him from continuing to condemn it and Monday’s election.
“This election is really a fake of the will of the people,” he said. “We asked people not to go voting.”
Khair said the vote will do nothing to change the violent conflict that’s left 10,000 civilians dead along with hundreds of soldiers. In fact, he believes it will make it worse.
“Syria is a fragile society which is not united. It is multi-national, multi-religious, multi-sector and since the regime has been using all these divisions to divide the unity of society due to the very famous rule, divide and conquer,” Khair said.
Monday, as the votes were cast, government forces reportedly continued shelling towns where rebels are putting up resistance.