This week, Syria held its first multi-party parliamentary elections in five decades, but leading opposition groups boycotted the vote, calling it a sham, even as President Bashar al-Assad's regime trumpeted the balloting as a milestone on the road to promised democratic reforms. The U.S. State Department took the side of the opposition, saying that holding elections now, as a United Nations-brokered deal to end the government's deadly crackdown flounders, "borders on ludicrous." Here, three takeaways from the controversial balloting:
1. Today, there are two Syrias
"Damascus on voting day was a tale of two cities," says Lyse Doucet at BBC News. In pro-Assad neighborhoods, Syrians waved flags, praised their president, and gushed that their votes counted. In opposition areas, "it was eerily quiet. Shops were shuttered," and people whispered about abuses suffered at the hands of the regime's security forces. The government wants everyone to believe it can "make room for other voices," but the real opposition wasn't even on the ballot.
2. The election changes nothing
It doesn't matter who sits in Syria's toothless parliament, says Jonathan Spyer at The Jerusalem Post. "The true machinery of rule in Syria" is in the hands of the Assad family and its security services. The "real political battle in Syria" isn't in parliament. It's a battle for power that will be fought in the streets, and nothing will be settled until one of two things happens: Either the insurgency overthrows Assad, or his regime defeats the opposition. "The regime's sham elections will not affect either outcome."
3. Actually, this could strengthen Assad's grip on power
This was Syria's first vote under a new constitution — a document that's supposed to end the ruling Baath Party's monopoly on power. But the opposition is convinced the whole thing was a charade "meant to stabilize, not diminish, President Bashar al-Assad's regime," says Abby Ohlheiser at Slate. The 250-member legislature "plays a secondary role in the rule of Syria," and the election's 7,000 candidates had to be approved by the government, so no matter who wins, the new parliament is expected to be awfully friendly to Assad.